June 18 • 03:15 AM

Carver helps support vets

Berlin Twp. man uses talents to help association's 'Lean On Me' program

January 20, 2010
BERLIN TWP. — From time to time we all need someone, or something, we can lean on.

To ensure that U.S. servicemen are never forgotten and always given the support they need, woodcarver Norm Kandow lends his time and talent to a program that provides custom-made wooden canes to veterans.

Having served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1951-53, Kandow, 79, has a special affinity for those who wear or have worn the uniform of the United States military.

About three years ago, Kandow and fellow members of the Michigan Woodcarvers Association began making and presenting "Lean On Me" canes to veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most of the post 911-era canes have ended up in the hands of servicemen and women seriously wounded and being treated or convalescing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.

Norm Kandow fashions another of his custom-made eagle heads for a ‘Lean On Me’ cane. photo by Tom Wearing.

Since the inception of the program, word has spread quickly about the availability of the canes, says Kandow, which in turn has created an increasing demand from veterans and their families.

While preferring to diminish his role in the process, Kandow says he does much of his carving from his Berlin Township home. His specialty is fashioning the American Eagle head that adorns the tip of the canes.

"It's a labor of love," Kandow says. "I like doing it and I can do about one a week. If I happen to know the veteran it's going to, I'll try to carve something more specific and personal."

One of his more personalized canes went to Imlay City Air Force veteran Jack Little, who was presented with the memento during a ceremony hosted by the Michigan Woodcarvers at the Sterling Heights Senior Center.

Kandow says each cane displays the veteran's name, branch of service, rank and related information; laminated onto the shaft of the cane. The information must be provided in advance by the veteran or his family in the form of separation or discharge papers or a DD 214.

The canes are presented at no cost to all World War II veterans and Korean and Vietnam War veterans who served in-country or in the adjacent waters. Post 911-era (War on Terror) veterans are eligible if they were wounded and are recipients of the Purple Heart.

Kandow points out that the wood to make the canes is donated by a generous Michigan supplier and the shafts are produced at minimal cost in Tennessee. The woodcarvers, he adds, donate their services.

"The only expenses we really have are for the telephone calls and the postage," he says. "The club pays for those."

On Monday, Kandow was joined at his home by local "Lean On Me" coordinator and Michigan Woodcarvers Association member Dave Copeman of Sterling Heights. The pair discussed the high interest in the canes and the current backlog of applications.

"We're about 200 behind right now," says Copeman, a U.S. Navy veteran who had the honor of presenting the cane to Little.

"I have the best job of all," he says. "It's an honor to meet these individuals and present them with a cane. It's just unbelievable.

"They are very appreciative and some of them get a little emotional and tear up," Copeman says. "For some of the Vietnam veterans, who in many cases had been reluctant to talk about their experiences, it allows them a chance to open up."

Copeman says the Michigan Woodcarvers Association has 41 clubs and about 1,300 members. Thus far, those members have made about 400 of the Eagle-headed canes.

While the canes are free to veterans and not for sale, Copeman says donations to the Lean On Me program are always accepted.

Checks or money orders may be made out to the Michigan Woodcarvers Association, specifying that the donation is for the Lean On Me program.

Mail donations to David Copeman, 2033 Jonathan Dr., Sterling Heights, MI 48310-2842 or call him at 586-979-4852.

Kandow, who is a member of yet another woodcarvers organization in Sarnia, Ontario, hopes to establish a similar program for Canadian veterans.

"I'm starting to work on that now," he says. "That's my goal."

Kandow has been married to wife Marlene for 57 years. They have four grown daughters; Debbie, Pam, Valerie and Elaine.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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