Men’s Sheds offer retirees a ‘Boy Scouts for old guys’

Chuck Claude, 88, of Hopkins holds a new cabinet handle
Chuck Claude, 88, of Hopkins holds a new cabinet handle as Lyle Wandrei uses a drill to put it in place at the Hopkins Activity Center on Sept. 26, 2019. The two are members of the Hopkins Men’s Shed, which brings older men together socially while working on projects and activities.
Peter Cox | MPR News

When Phil Johnson retired a couple of years ago, he wondered what he might do with his time.

“I remembered that my father really struggled with retirement after my mother had passed. He really had trouble just getting out of the house,” he said.

That memory stuck out to him. So Johnson began looking for activities for retired men. In an online search, he quickly found the Men’s Shed movement.

It began in the mid-1990s in Australia, as people there tried to address growing concerns about isolation and depression among older men.

They created the Men’s Shed movement, which brought groups of men together to work on projects, often in the backyard sheds of people’s homes, which is how the idea got its name.

Johnson thought the idea would work here.

"I read about Men’s Shed, it sounded great, terrific, Boy Scouts for old guys and just a lot of fun,” he said. “Then I found out that there weren't any in the United States, so I wanted to get the organization going."

He put an ad in a local paper, men showed up and that was the start of the Hopkins Men’s Shed.

The group met at the Hopkins Activity Center, but in its first few meetings, they didn’t really have much to work on. So the activity center staff put the group to work with tasks around the building.

Since then, the group has worked on putting together shelving, gardening and painting.

Phil Johnson holds a cabinet door as Lyle Wandrei drills a new handle.
Phil Johnson, left, holds a cabinet door as Lyle Wandrei drills a new handle for the door into place at the Hopkins Activity Center on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. Johnson was one of the founders of the Hopkins Men’s Shed, which brings older men together to work on projects and make friends. Johnson also heads the US Men’s Sheds Association.
Peter Cox | MPR News

"We do programming for older adults and we were just enthused to be able to bring this group here, give these guys a place to hold their meetings, give resources and ideas on projects, and keep them busy,” said Debbie Vold, the assistant coordinator at the activity center.

The group, which has about 30 members, meets every Thursday. About a dozen or so members show up at each meeting. They range in age from their early 60s to their mid-90s.

"It has been a remarkably perfect fit for people our age,” said Chuck Claude, 88, of Hopkins.

The Hopkins group has expanded to projects in and around the community. It’s built benches and cleaned up parks for the city of Hopkins as well.

Joe Holasek, the head of the Hopkins group, was among the first to join.

"It's a challenge because as we get older, our friends go away, we leave work, we lose those contacts. So I was looking for a way to keep in contact with different people, and it's been fun,” he said.

Members of the Hopkins Men’s Shed
Members of the Hopkins Men’s Shed begin work on putting new hardware on cabinets in a room at the Hopkins Activity Center. The group, which was started in 2016, brings older men together to work on projects, but also serves to fight isolation and loneliness among older men.
Peter Cox | MPR News

There are now about 900 Men's Sheds around the world. Johnson is now the head of the U.S. Men's Sheds Association, which includes more than a dozen groups. In Minnesota, Hopkins, Roseville, Willmar, New Hope and Mound have Men's Sheds.

Seventy-three-year-old Bob Nelson of Golden Valley said he joined the Hopkins Men’s Shed because he wanted something to do and thought it might be fun.

He found something more.

"My wife passed away in August of this year,” he said. “A half a dozen of these guys came to her funeral, which surprised the heck out of me. Because you look at them as — they're casual friends, but yet they're friends that know you, are concerned about you."

Nelson said the group has become an essential part of his week.

"I was very impressed. Just to have that camaraderie, so to speak, and have all these guys all there,” he said. “It's a very sad time for me, but they were sharing, they were very much there to help and comfort me. So it's been very good for me."

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