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Coon Valley man carving niche in holiday tradition

COON VALLEY, Wis. - Many traditions are made during the holidays, whether it's visiting family, taking some time to volunteer, or decorating for the season. For Charlie Wuensch, the holiday season includes a woodworking hobby that stretches into his childhood.

"When I was young,14 or 15 I made lawn ornaments," remembers the Coon Valley resident.

A 34 year career in the dairy and food industry didn't allow for much hobby time, so the wood he cut from his forest would just sit. That is until Charlie retired from his job at Kemp's/Marigold Foods. "I ended up with all this lumber and didn't know what to do with it, so I started building crèches."

Actually, Charlie started out hand-crafting other furniture, like chess boards and baby cradles, until a customer asked if he would try to build a representation of the nativity scene, or crèche. "I built one and he liked it so well he ordered three more or two more I guess. From there it just kept going and got to be fun."

He's been having a whole lot of fun ever since he built the first crèche seven years ago. There may have been some four-letter words blurted in the beginning.

"Your hands get beat up. I've got a mark here right now," says Charlie, pointing to his hand.


But now he's got it down to a science. Let's call it an ever-evolving science. "I really like when people come and look at them. They give me new ideas."

Ideas like swinging gates, lights, and other unique features.

"Each crèche is unique in itself. Out of the 306 I've built, every one is different," he says.

That's right... 306 crèches.

"Each one is numbered. The woods I use, the most common wood is oak. With walnut being next. Cherry."

The wood that Charlie uses for his projects, all 14 kinds of it, actually comes from his own backyard. A little slice of Coon Valley. "This one for example is American Chestnut, which is very rare," he says, pointing to one of the many crèches in his barn.

It's the uniqueness of his work, Charlie never uses a pattern for his projects, and all the T-L-C that Charlie puts in that draws customers like Mary Koenen to his woodworking.

"You can tell that they're made from the heart, which makes it even more special to us, just because you know he enjoyed making the pieces," says Koenen, a St. Joseph Ridge resident.

But it's the joy he has for his craft that will keep Charlie carving away at his longtime hobby.

"I was thinking about it, I have enough wood to build 25,000 of these. So I can build a lot of them."

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