“I love making those windows.”
Henry Schmald, 72, makes the windows for Community Supported Shelters’ Conestoga Huts in a small woodshop behind his house in west Eugene. The window frames are made from rough fence boards, but Schmald uses his lifetime of woodworking experience to make beautifully finished pieces. He and his wife Marcia Brett install the windows into the huts’ end walls at CSS’s Tine Hive workshop.
“When Occupy Eugene got started, it reminded me of days when I was always involved with good people doing good things. I really admired the work that Sue Sierralupe and her team were doing with the medical bus and hair stylist Benjamin Hunt and all the Occupy people who volunteered at the Egan Warming centers. All these people made me think, ‘Man, I’ve got to find something to do.’ Then people started talking about Opportunity Village and that’s when I first heard about the Conestoga Huts. At one point Erik [de Buhr, CSS program director] brought one of the huts to the Park Blocks and I went to look at it. I got a really good hit off of Erik and I loved his enthusiasm about the huts. I was impressed, too, that they were affiliated with St. Vincent De Paul, which does so many great things in our community. I wanted to do something with the skills I have. I’ve got a small shop, so I can do small things. So when I looked the hut over, I thought , ‘oh, that back window could be just my gig’—and it has been.
“From when I was a little kid, my dad had a wood shop, so I’ve always been involved with wood shops. When I was in the Peace Corps in Gabon, I helped build schools. In the ’70s, I worked with Hoedads tree planning cooperative and after that helped start a woodworking and building cooperative called Boardfoot, that was a great group of people to work with and a big influence on my life.
“Erik and the people working on these huts are what the Dalai Lama meant when, in his talk in Eugene, he talked about younger people who will make good things happen in the 21st century. We’re the folks—like the Dalai Lama—getting ready to say, ‘bye-bye.’ But it’s great to give these young folks a helping hand while we’re still around.
“The huts serve an important community purpose because they make it possible for people who might otherwise be homeless to experience how wonderful it is to have your own place. You can go to the Mission or other shelters but that’s very different from going to your own place. I know how important it is if you are trying to go back to school or get a job to have a place to lock up your stuff, and to just be able to shut a door and be in your own home.
“The quick answer to why I’m involved is that it makes me happy. I don’t feel good unless I’m doing something to help somehow. I love making those windows.”