YOUNTVILLE – On one recent afternoon, Gordon Kirby, with a steady hand and a thin saw blade, cut a notch in a thick piece of deodor cedar destined to become a footstool or small bench.
The 75-year-old Navy veteran spends his days in the woodshop of the Creative Arts Center at the Veterans Home of California-Yountville, where he’s produced an average of two to three wood creations a week over the past four years. Many of his projects are fashioned from wood salvaged and milled from downed trees or branches—such as oak, pine, cedar, and even giant sequoias—on the vast campus.
“I give most of them away,” said Kirby, who was a radioman on the ammunition ship USS Mauna Kea through three tours of duty and two campaigns during the Vietnam War.
Sometime within the next year or so, he’ll take on the project of a lifetime even though it’s a relatively simple task for someone with his skills.
Using wood from trees that once stood in the Home’s Memorial Grove, Kirby will construct a box that will store numerous mementos from the Veterans Home’s past and present, long into its future.
Following the projected dedication of the new 240-bed skilled nursing and memory care facility in late 2023–early 2024, the box will be sealed and encased in a time capsule, to be opened many decades down the road.
Like so many others, Kirby learned skills in high school shop classes that became his craft and hobbies later in life. He grew up in Hamilton, Missouri, and after leaving the Navy in 1969, became an architectural blacksmith in Sonoma.
After retiring, he moved into the Home just over four years ago, and continues to ply his handiwork in the Creative Arts Center woodshop. He mixes intricate wood pieces, adorning some with metal artwork.
“I enjoy it,” he said.
Home officials approached him to build the time capsule box, the actual size, specifications, and design which have yet to be finalized. Whatever he builds will be placed inside an outer box to help it withstand the ages and preserve its contents. Kirby agreed to do it because, well, that’s what he does one project to the next, and considers it no big deal.
“If someone else wants to help me out, they’re more than welcome,” Kirby said. “It’s just another piece.”
To him, perhaps. But when folks who haven’t been born yet crack open the time capsule many decades from now, chances are they’ll find a box every bit as intriguing as what it holds.