Building time for each other

Shared hobby brings retired couple closer

Shared hobby brings retired couple closer

October 21, 2004|by JANET HEIM

When Ken Schlotterbeck, 67, offered to end his wife's search for a country dining table by making one himself, he had no idea what was in store.

More than 30 pieces of one-of-a-kind country furniture later, the couple have discovered a shared passion in retirement that has brought an even closer bond to their already solid marriage of 46 years. Both are Washington County natives and grew up in Hagerstown's West End.

They have chosen to embrace retirement and be open to new opportunities, instead of wondering what to do with their time. "Retirement is a time when you get to do things you didn't have time to do," Judy said.


They're also reveling in the time they get to spend together.

Judy Schlotterbeck, 63, who retired in June 2003 after 25 years as a social studies teacher at Boonsboro Middle School, was looking forward to finally having time to paint. While taking a class in art appreciation at Hagerstown Community College years ago, she discovered her talent with a brush.

Her husband, who she describes as "an electrician who's never built anything in his life," wasn't as sure what he'd do in retirement, other than perhaps building a few birdhouses.

Ken also retired in 2003 after 45 years as an electrician. He'd grown up with a father and older brother who were carpenters, but hadn't tried the craft himself.

The couple, who have a grown son and daughter and three grandchildren, love spending time in Lancaster, Pa. They make an annual pilgrimage there at Thanksgiving, visiting the many country furniture shops for inspiration.

When Ken suggested he could build a table for Judy, she was apprehensive. She suggested he start with a jelly cupboard and see how that turned out.

Pleased with the results, Judy embellished the piece with her country painting. "Her work enhances my work," Ken said. "I say she's an artist, she says she's not."

The next project was the table for Judy, a project that turned out so well Ken's tools have had little time to rest since then. His initial projects were made with his father's hand tools, but he's added power tools, one at a time, to the workshop he has in half of their two-car garage.

Ken uses solid wood and ready-made table legs for the pieces, reserving old barn wood for tops of stands and tables. He doesn't use patterns and says that no two pieces are the same.

Since the first project in June 2003, he's made teddy bear benches, coffee and end tables, TV stands, medicine chests, pie safes, fireplace screens and more.

"He loves it. He's up at 6 a.m.," Judy said.

"...Now I want to get up," Ken adds.

The couple often work long days by choice, estimating that it takes about a week to finish a piece of furniture.

The Schlotterbecks have replaced most of the antique furniture in their brick colonial home on Virginia Avenue with pieces they have created. Other items were made for their children for Christmas gifts or for friends and neighbors.

While the couple doesn't want to take away from their hobby by turning it into a business, they will sell finished pieces and make pieces to order as a way to keep their hobby going.

This unexpected venture meant rethinking their work space. The open porch overlooking the in-ground pool offered the best option and over the summer, Ken and his older brother, Paul, converted it to an enclosed, year-round studio.

Judy now does all her painting there and Ken works there when finishing a piece and applying polyurethane to the furniture.

"I hope people realize retirement's not the end, it's the beginning. You have to have the guts to try," Judy said. "We hope we'll be able to do this for a long time."

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