A Note on the Passing of a Woodcarver

George Reinfried 1932-2010
     As a relative youngster in the woodcarving world, I have witnessed the passing of many older woodcarvers.  Each has been special in his or her own way, and I have felt the usual feelings one does when a mentor, friend or colleague leaves this world but the recent passing of George Reinfried, 78, of  Lancaster Pennsylvania, has had a profound effect, not only on me but on the woodcarving world at large. For those of us lucky enough to have known George, there are no further words needed.  He was a humble man who probably would have preferred not to have any fuss made about him but for those of you who never had the pleasure of meeting George, allow me a moment.  I know George will forgive me.      George Reinfried was a simple man, leading a quiet life.  He was born and died in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was married to his wife Ann for 29 years. Together, they raised 8 children, had 12 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.  He was a printer for the National Cash Register Company for 25 years and was an avid hunter, fisherman, camper and golfer. He was a man of faith and a member of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Lancaster.  He found no greater way to spend his retirement than to be in the company of his beloved family. These things alone would have been a great legacy for the average man. But George was not your average man.  George was a woodcarver.    

George had never planned to be a woodcarver but the day that George met Jack Miller of the Lancaster Woodcarving Club at a woodcarving show, the direction that George’s life would take changed dramatically. What began as a hobby to pass the time in his retirement years soon became a passion to promote woodcarving in his corner of the world. Jack, already an accomplished carver, invited George to start carving with him in the evenings and George took him up on his offer. Georges’ first carving was a labor of love, a cane with his pointer Katie on it, his beloved dog who had just passed away. George continued on his personal carving journey in his basement workshop and could often be found on nicer days, carving out on the patio.  He graced his family with many a wonderfully carved gift. George also found that he enjoyed carving birds, with each and every little feather burned into the wood. George eventually joined the Lancaster Woodcarving Club. Along the way, he also became a member of many other woodcarving groups, the York Carving Club, the American National Cane Club anda small group of guys that would get together each week in Ted McClains garage. they kept the number to 7 members and called themselves the WoodBee Carvers. The story could end here but the best is yet to be. 

As George got deeper into woodcarving, he and his wife, Ann began accompanying Jack Miller, traveling in their RV to other carving events throughout the country. After traveling to a large woodcarving roundup in Evart, Michigan a few times, where free carving instruction was being offered, George had an idea. “Why don’t we have anything like this on the east coast? Lets give it a try.” Sandy Holder of the Michigan Roundup reassured, “If you have it, they will come.”With the support of  his wife, Ann and Jack Miller, he contacted family friends Al and Cindy Waiter who just happened to be the owners of a large camp ground in Honesdale PA, high up in the Pocono mountains.  There was no stopping George. He just kept talking about it and dreaming his dream. In 2003,  George and Jack began contacting talented carving instructors around the country. Ann contacted lots of carving clubs to get the word out. The Northeast Woodcarvers roundup, which became known as the NEWR was underway. As a result of the first NEWR, a caving club was formed at Cherry ridge.  Bob Muller and the Cherry Ridge Woodcarving Club got  involved in this endeavor and things just took off.   George, Ann, Jack Miller and the Cherry Ridge Carvers have since been organizing this annual event.
     The NEWR now attracts approximately 300 woodcarvers from all over the east coast, from Canada to Florida.  Its premise being that it was a place for woodcarvers to get free excellent instruction from skilled instructors and while it excelled in its intended goal, I find the NEWRs greatest achievement was the camaraderie among woodcarvers that it has fostered.  There was “something for everyone” at the NEWR, carving contests, pot luck suppers, non-carving classes, beginner classes and classes for children as young as 14, ice cream socials, trips into Honesdale, Pa for Music in the Park, sing-alongs and funny presentations by the instructors. George was the leader of a merry bunch of misfits and cut-ups, who made the NEWR special.  What I personally will always remember was the twinkle in his eyes when he laughed.  It was contagious. George set the tone for the NEWR and down played any of the work involved with organizing it. The NEWR was playtime for George, often sneaking into town to partake in huge bowls of ice cream with dear friends. If he had one fault, it was said that George could not talk and carve at the same time and woe-be-gone to the carvers who sat in a class that George also took. There would be much more laughing than carving going on.      George also had a more serious side as a woodcarving promoter on a national level and became a personal mentor of mine as he playfully cajoled me into becoming a NEWR instructor. I was already an instructor for the Parks Dept in New York City but George did not understand that teaching in a city of 9 million people was immensely less intimidating than joining the ranks of his esteemed carving instructors at NEWR.  It took him a few years and he never let up on me, never let me doubt myself as he put his gentle hand on my back and pushed.  That’s who George was, a playful man with a big heart, who encouraged children and adults to try their hand at carving, much as Jack Miller had once done for him. He even helped his wife start carving.                                                                                   The Lancaster Woodcarving Club awarded George their highesthonor, the John Harrington Award, not just for carving but for participating in allclub activities.  Jay Herr and George started beginner carving in the Park and it hadbeen held each fall in Lancaster. He and Ann were contacted by a woman that taught home school and asked if it would be possible for their club to teach 14 students for 10 weeks, 3 hours a week. Of course George said no problem, and in turn George and Ann approached the Lancaster Woodcarving Club members and had many willing to participate, and now for the last  6 years the club has been teaching students age 14 – 18. George also started inviting guest carvers, Floyd Rhadigan, Mike Bloomquist,  and Don Dearolf for seminars at the Lancaster Woodcarving club, George handled all details. Two years ago, George thought it would be great to have carving seminars held in a beautiful building in the Lancaster County Park, with his wife, Ann cooking breakfast and lunch. Forty carvers attended. The instructors were Pete LeClair, Don Dearolf, Jan Oegema and Bob Statlander.     Georges’ story could end here, but it doesn’t.  His true legacy is yet to be seen as George has had a direct hand in beginning and improving the carving careers of many a talented woodcarver. Ann and Jack Miller will, no doubt, continue to be driving forces behind the dream that George once envisioned.  There will be more carving and more laughing as the NEWR has now become bigger than George, Ann and Jack could have foreseen. It has taken on a life of its own. This year will be a tough one for the NEWR as the pain of losing George will be a fresh wound on the hearts of many.  Among the din of all the carvers talking and laughing and the instructors teaching, there will be an unplanned moment of silence when I will swear I can hear Georges mischievous laugh float through the air. I will choke back a sob and I will smile.  Thank You George Reinfried! Thank You for all you’ve done for the woodcarving world but more importantly, thank you for who you were, a humble giant.  George will be looking down on us from that golden workbench which is magically always clean, where the tools are impossibly always sharp, the wood is wonderfully sweet and carvings actually get finished in a timely manner.  He will still be laughing and smiling. He will still be George, my friend.

Maura Macaluso