By SUNNY LOCKWOOD
It's 8 a.m. and the Chapel in the Pines parking lot is still cool and shaded from the tall pine trees growing all around.
A group of white-haired men in jeans and work boots form a circle near their pickups and bow their heads in prayer, asking for protection as they work together in the woods. After the "amen," they climb into their various trucks and head out to the morning's assignment it's a pickup parade lead by the truck pulling the log splitter.
This group of retirees, ranging in age from 55 to nearly 80, meets every Monday and Wednesday to cut and deliver firewood to needy people and families.
They are former teachers, accountants, managers, veterinarians and mechanics who have found a satisfying way to do good by doing wood. They are the Do-Wooders.
"We cut and deliver about 100 cords a year," says Will Mehlhaff, who at 79 is one of the oldest of the group. He has been helping cut, split, stack and deliver firewood since 1990.
"It's a lot of fun. It's recreation," said Mehlhaff. "We trade off jobs if we get tired."
Among the big trees
This morning, the Do-Wooders drive to Big Trees Village, where a homeowner has asked them to cut up and haul away a cedar and large pine tree.
In addition to homeowners who give the Do-Wooders trees to cut up, the group gets downed trees from tree fallers and the U.S. Forest Service.
When they arrive at this morning's address, the men move together like a well-oiled machine, unloading their tools, setting up the hydraulic log splitter and going to work.
Lee Vahle and Ernie Friesen will rotate quarter rounds under the splitter blade while Arnold Cookson operates the machine.
Cookson, who had a triple-bypass surgery and a new heart valve implanted about three years ago, joined the Do-Wooders to stay in shape.
Chad Brown, nearly 80, hands the split pieces from the long splitter to Jerry Howard, who stands in the bed of his pickup. He stacks the wood until his truck bed is bulging, then drives off to deliver his load.