It’s Friday morning at Los Altos’ Miramonte Christian School and the tools are out.
The private school’s eighth-graders are taking a woodworking class that allows them to saw, sand, stain and varnish. Students get to plan their projects and, under the watchful eyes of two dedicated volunteers, see them come to life.
Retirees and avid woodworkers Richard Winslow and Peter Pipe have been leading the weekly class for 17 years; they recently received a Jefferson Award for public service acknowledging their efforts.
The students begin with a common assignment of a pencil holder made of layers of wood pieces and drilled holes. Even this beginning project requires cutting, gluing, sanding and finishing. Power tools are few but include a drill press, a sander and some electric drills.
During one recent class, Winslow worked with a student on a side table, the plans for which she found on the internet but had to adapt to fit a particular space at home. With the base finished, she still needed to sand and refinish the top, made from walnut Winslow had brought from home. A San Jose cabinetmaker donates high-quality pine for most of the projects.
Other students’ projects included a shadow box and a desktop organizer.
“We suggest projects to them that we know can be
handled in the school year,” Winslow said.
Winslow noted that precision is necessary in the measurements, and that the woodworking classes provide some practical math lessons.
“That’s one of the great things about this,” he said. “I’ll say to a kid, ‘What’s half of 7?’ They’re applying that kind of basic math to furniture.”
The students also each make a derby car.
“I have a track and they have lanes that they run down and compete with each other at the end of they year,” Winslow said. “They’ll have them fixed up so they look pretty – they get creative on their painting.”
An affinity for wood
Pipe, a former Los Altos resident, came to the U.S. from England in 1956. He worked as a reporter in England, then as an editor at the San Francisco News. He was also a pilot in World War II.
His love of woodworking was sparked as a child.
“One of the big events of my life was, when I was 10, I got a saw for my birthday,” he said. “That’s because I’d been in charge of chopping the kindling for the fires that we used to have in the house. It was the greatest thing.”
He also apprenticed as a pipe organ repairman, learning the skill from his piano teacher’s brother.
Winslow is retired from a career in the computer industry.
“I did things with metal all my life as an engineer,” he said, “and there was a need for some projects around the house, so I made them. I found that wood is much easier to cut than metal. I just love working with wood.”
Both men enjoy seeing the kids’ excitement at making things.
“We grew up where everyone … had to take some kind of shop, stuff where you use your hands to figure things out,” Winslow said, adding that shop classes are a rarity at schools nowadays. “We firmly believe that it’s something that’s missing and is desperately needed because it has practical applications. … To work on something where you take an idea from planning and thinking about it to completion in less than a year is really different for the kids. They’re excited to do that.”
Pipe said his own children started learning the craft at an early age.
“I have five kids, and they all in turn claimed to be Dad’s hammer-holder,” he said. “They used to get apprenticed to it in that way.”
According to Pipe, working with wood is rewarding.
“The satisfaction on (students’)
faces when they’ve got a project completed is so nice to see,” he said.
Winslow would like to see more of this type of practical, hands-on learning in schools.
“It has lifelong applications because the children learn that they’re capable of doing more than sitting looking at the TV or whatever, and there’s more to life than just that,” he said.
Acknowledging their work
Miramonte Christian School’s eighth-grade teacher, Ronna Sato, recalled that she had met Winslow approximately 30 years ago, well before his retirement, and was familiar with his woodworking skills.
“I had seen some of the things that he did at church – he made some pieces of furniture there,” she said.
Deprived of woodshop classes when she was growing up (girls took home economics), she wanted her students to have that opportunity. When she became Miramonte’s eighth-grade teacher and Winslow retired, she proposed the idea to him. Fortunately for hundreds of students over the years, he and Pipe – Winslow’s friend from a woodworking club – gladly accepted.
Sato nominated the men for the Jefferson Award after hearing an ad seeking nominees on KCBS. She hoped to acknowledge their work “more than us just saying ‘thank you,’” she said. Winslow and Pipe received the honor, and along with a television segment aired on CBS-KPIX last November, the men will attend an awards ceremony in San Francisco.
Founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Sen. Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard, the Jefferson Awards Foundation partners with news outlets to honor local unsung heroes.
In addition to teaching woodworking, Pipe makes wooden tops that he donates to the Ronald McDonald House. He estimated that he’s made 2,000 of them over the years.
“Kids like tops,” he said simply.
Winslow’s sideline is a national organization called Rebuilding Together, which Sato said helps people, especially seniors, keep their homes by performing maintenance work.
“They’re wonderful people,” Sato said of Winslow and Pipe.
To view the KPIX news segment on Winslow and Pipe, visit tinyurl.com/Jefferson-Winslow-Pipe.
For information on Miramonte Christian School, visit miramonteschool.org.