Why does Thurman Davis, age 82, have 60 wooden stepstools in his garage? It started with loneliness. His wife, Peggy, passed away in 2016. After 61 happy years of marriage, the house was too quiet. Davis needed a way to keep busy. Four months ago, Davis starting building folding stepstools. Now, he’s finished 163–and so far, he’s given away 95 of them!
“When people walk down my street, I offer them a stool if they want one,” Davis said. “At first, they look at me like I’m crazy—but I open the garage and let them pick one. I’ve had more fun meeting my neighbors this way. Now, they drive by and wave at me.”
One of Davis’ favorite stories is of greeting a young couple coming down the street with their two little girls. “They were twins, jet black hair, cute as could be,” Davis said. “I happened to have two lavender stools, so after we talked, I gave each of them one. Before they left, each one had to hug my neck. You talk about being paid!”
Building stools isn’t new to Davis’ life. Early in his retirement, he opened Gramp’s Wood Shop in Yukon. For three years, he tinkered at woodworking, making similar furniture out of oak. “It was practically a non-profit business,” Davis said, “because I wasn’t really making any money. It was actually a pastime where I got to meet people. I made so many good friends then.”
Prior to retirement, Davis had a long career in data processing. He entered the field in the 1950s when computer mainframes were in their infancy. It was a time when a farm boy with a high school degree and an aptitude for math could work for General Electric and help launch a rocket into outer space.
“I spent five years on a NASA contract, and I worked in the lab where they tested the Saturn rocket. Our lab would run tests on it and check out the electrical circuitry. Anytime a component failed, I processed the reporting.”
Davis also printed off the launch instructions, done by cranking a cylinder onto multi-lift paper. “It’s hard to realize that we were thinking about going to the moon, and we didn’t have copy machines,” Davis said. “Needless to say, they got to the moon exactly as Dr. Wernher von Braun planned it. I used to pass him in the hall all the time. He was brilliant.”
Davis also had the honor of being present when President Kennedy visited the base. He remembers standing along a rope that lined the street. Kennedy walked right past him. Before the moon landing occurred, Davis had transferred to Oklahoma City, but he’s still amazed to have had an early role in its success.
“Man could never have performed the calculations fast enough to travel to space—they had to have computers to do that. The ones I worked with could fill a house,” Davis said. “I was blessed and gratified to have learned a career like that on the job.”
These days, Davis’ computer use is at a minimum. Although he does keep up with emails from friends. He’d much rather be making friends in person. “I spend a lot of time at the hardware store buying pine for these stools,” Davis said. “I’ve come to enjoy the friendship of the staff. Right before Christmas, I took some stools up there to give to those folks. They were so happy, and I felt so good. After that, I went to the grocery store, and a lady in line paid for my groceries. I don’t think that happened by coincidence.”
“Some people probably think I’m crazy for building all these stools, but it’s good entertainment for me. People like choosing their colors, and some people ask me to autograph them. I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing it, but believe me, I’ve been well repaid by the smiles and friendships.”
The author of this article, Amy Dee Stephens, is proud to have received stepstool #28.