Campus carpenter turns craft into works of art
University of Minnesota Crookston’s maintenance carpenter, Vern Shafer, has a knack for repurposing things and after seven years on campus, he’s still turning heads with his projects. Among his most popular pieces of art are wood tables he created using the former bleachers of Lysaker Gymnasium. The tables can be seen in the Leadership Room on the second floor of the Sargeant Student Center plus there’s an additional side table and bleacher feature wall nearby.
When campus leaders first began talking about replacing the bleachers in Lysaker, Shafer and others asked to save the bleachers, risers, and seating so they could be repurposed. A large container was purchased, and the bleacher pieces were taken out one at a time and stored.
“We scraped all the gum and glue, cleaned them, stacked them, and then I started making projects out of them,” Shafer explained. “It took about five to six weeks to tear apart and students helped, too.”
Over the next months and years, Shafer worked on places to feature the bleachers such as inside the Welcome Center in Kiehle Building where a wall was covered, in place of random ceiling tiles in Kiehle, and as a surround for picture frames around campus.
“I don’t like throwing things away, so I like to recycle and use different things for different projects,” Shafer added. “I’ve taken some sliding doors from the library and converted them into tables, I’ve made dividers in study rooms from recycled countertops, and I’ve also created a built-in display case from an open desk area.”
If you’ve ever followed Shafer on one of his “normal” workdays, you might find yourself visiting a variety of buildings as he has project requests from many departments. He’s worked on ceilings and roofs, redone duct work, built shelves, moved heavy equipment for labs, cut doorways, retrenched water lines, helped with snow removal; you name it.
“I work with the children’s center fixing kids’ bikes and trikes, I work near the animals building gates and fixing things, I help in the Sports Center setting up equipment, and I’ve helped design different office spaces,” he explained. “I’m always up to something different.”
“That’s what I like about my job, there’s always something to do,” Shafer continued. “I’m in one of those trades that work with just about everyone. I’ve been in just about everyone’s office to fix or do something.”
Shafer even reconfigured a wood trophy for the campus North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) team after it was broken three separate times.
Shafer is presently wrapping up a renovation project for the Office of Financial Aid & Scholarship after flooding in Hill Hall had them temporarily relocated. In that space he has rebuilt walls, reframed doors, and adapted to special requests from employees to ensure the flow of the office matches students’ needs. Adding to his long list, he also just finished helping put together 24-foot long portable dugouts for the soccer team.
“I love my job,” said Shafer. “I get to do some pretty fun stuff.”
When Shafer isn’t going from project to project at work, he enjoys spending time with his wife, three kids, and his grandkids. He even continues his carpentry work at home where he’s currently working on a murphy bed.
Photo captions: (1) Vern Shafer sits at the table he made using old bleachers from Lysaker Gymnasium - the table is housed in the Leadership Room on the second floor of Sargeant Student Center. (2) Vern Shafer works on a gate for the horse barns. (3) A bleacher wall is featured on the second floor of Sargeant Student Center. (4) Bleacher ceiling tiles can be found in Kiehle Building near the Rotunda. (5) The NACTA team trophy was reconfigured by Vern Shafer. (6) A bleacher wall is featured in the Welcome Center inside Kiehle Building.