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|04-22-03: Cutting up in Wabash
|By JEAN ZEHRINGER GIESIGE
Spring is popping up all over on lawns around the area, but no more so
than on the lawn of Sharon Blackburn in the little town of Wabash, west of Celina. There,
birdhouses, garden benches and wishing wells flow out of Blackburn's busy workshop, and
sit in a row along the highway waiting for someone to buy them and take them home.
"I've been so blessed. I love this place, and it's perfect for
what I do,"
Blackburn said of the little farmstead she purchased in 1999.
There is room for her dogs, room for her grandchildren to visit, and
room for her wood work, which occupies much of her time.
"I put in a lot more overtime now than I ever did - but I don't
mind it," said Blackburn, 50. "I really enjoy what I do."
Every day, she said, she works on her woodcrafts. Cutting out patterns,
nailing, sanding or painting, she enjoys every step of the process. It is soothing and
challenging at the same time, she said, to watch a windmill or a lighthouse grow beneath
It is solitary work, which makes it very different from her former
career. Blackburn is retired as a master sergeant from the U.S. Air Force, which she
joined shortly after she graduated from Immaculate Conception High School in Celina in
1971. Then Sharon Stukenborg, she was a farm girl who was working at Jack's Surplus City
and dreaming of a different life when the Air Force recruiter called.
"I chose the Air Force because I liked the blue uniform, and
that's the honest truth," Blackburn said.
But she soon learned that she and the Air Force were a good fit. While
other young airmen complained about the discipline and demands of basic training,
Blackburn found that life on a farm and then at a Catholic school had prepared her to meet
the expectations of others. She did have a little trouble with the obstacle course -
"I fell in the water," she said - but other than that, she adjusted fairly
quickly to military life.
"It was a culture shock for me at first, but I did better than
some because of my upbringing," she said.
Blackburn was first assigned to a supply unit. Later, she became a
drill instructor, and taught leadership and management at leadership school for
"I loved teaching. When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be
a teacher. It was the Air Force that gave me that opportunity," she said. "It
just wasn't the kind of teaching that I had imagined. I still had a chalkboard, but it was
definitely different than what I pictured when I was little."
The Air Force took her around the world, to Germany and Turkey and
bases around the United States. She was stationed in Turkey during the first Gulf War,
managing the supply of aircraft parts.
Also while in the Air Force, she married and gave birth to a son and a
daughter. Later, she was a single mother.
"I've had to become very independent," she said.
And, while in the Air Force, she began to tinker with tools.
"I've always been pretty self-sufficient. I've always had drills
and hammers, built dog houses and things like that," she said. She learned a lot of
it from following her father around on the farm, she said.
Then her children gave her a windmill lawn ornament.
"It deteriorated, like things do when they are outside," she
said. "So I took it apart to rebuild it."
From that little windmill grew her new business. She began building
things for friends in the Air Force, and the skills she acquired followed her back into
civilian life when she retired in 1996 after 24 years of military life. She returned to
this area in 1998, settling near her family.
Blackburn has favorite pieces that she turns out during the long
winter, anticipating the spring (a silhouette of a horse and buggy is her best seller),
and every year she tries new things. This year, she has introduced a purple martin house
and a set of angel bird feeders to her lineup. She also welcomes special orders for those
who need custom woodworking.
She doesn't have the time or inclination to sit in a booth at craft
shows, she said. She prefers to let her projects sell themselves, lined up out along the
highway, beckoning to those who drive by.
"People just pull over when they see something that they
like," she said. "I never know what the day is going to bring.
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