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Quilt top sewer has the right angles

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Story and photos Mark Hertzberg

Many people find it hard to let go of work when they retire. David Bidstrup did not.

When he retired in 1989 after 28 years as director of buildings and grounds for the Racine Unified School District, he wanted to do something completely different from his job. He had helped supervise construction of many of Racine’s schools, including Case High School, Gilmore Middle School and Giese Elementary School. He was so busy at work, he had no time for hobbies.

Today he sits at the beige 1965 Montgomery Ward Signature sewing machine in his basement guest room, sewing and assembling quilt squares. He creates them for the Sew ‘n Sews quilting group at Racine’s Lutheran Church of the Resurrection and for the Lutheran World Relief agency. Each quilt top takes about six hours to make. He completed his 500th one in early November.

He joined the Unified School District when it was formed in 1961. He had left Racine to attend Dana College in Blair, Neb. Joining the school district was a homecoming, and not just because he had returned to Racine. His new boss, Suptintendent John Prasch, had been his coach when he ran track at Park High School.

Sewing was Bidstrup’s second post-retirement avocation. His first hobby after retirement was carpentry. He walked through the school district’s carpenter shop every day. “I looked at that. It looked interesting to me. I decided that’s what I would do, woodworking, make some furniture, stuff like that.”

He bought a lathe before retiring and set up shop in his West Racine home. He made candlesticks, lamps and even furniture for his three children. He and his wife, Betty, would bring things he had made to Racine’s annual summer Starving Artists fair. “One year we went with a hundred pieces. We came back with one.”

Health had never been a problem for Bidstrup until 2000. He had quadruple bypass surgery in April. In August he had a kidney transplant. His daughter, Karen Gueldenzopf, was the donor. Lung problems, including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, followed.

He was told to be careful working around sawdust. He found it hard to work with a mask on, and gave up woodworking. He sold his carpentry equipment and looked for another avocation.

Recovery was not quick. It was six years before he was well enough to think of finding another hobby. Betty remembers, “We spent a lot of time putting (jig saw) puzzles together, over 200 puzzles.” Indeed, there is a stack of puzzle boxes in the house, and one puzzle is in progress on the table.

The Bidstrups read in the church bulletin in 2006 that the Sew ’n Sews needed someone to sew for them. The sewing group was making quilts that would be distributed by the Lutheran World Relief agency. Betty told David, “I bet you could do that at home.” Sewing was not completely new to him. His and Betty’s mothers were seamstresses, and her father was a tailor. His mother made draperies for Porter’s furniture store in their West Racine home when he was in junior high school.

Fabric, often from rummage sales, is furnished to him. He irons and cuts the fabrics, and then sews the squares together. The quilts are finished by the Sew ’n Sews at the church. They are distributed worldwide, wherever tragedy has struck or where there is a need, says Bidstrup. The agency responded to the 2010 Haitian earthquake and will likely distribute quilts to victims of the recent typhoon in the Philippines.

Although his quilting efforts were initially for people served by the relief agency, his talent now helps people in Racine. Some of the quilts are donated to HALO, Racine’s Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization, and a few to furnish rooms in homes built by Habitat for Humanity.

Perhaps his biggest challenge sewing was to make sure the corners of the quilt pieces were perfectly square. He used the same ingenuity to solve that problem that he did to solve problems in his work with the school district. A simple solution from his breakfast solved his vexing problem. He cut the front panel off a Multi Grain Cheerios cereal box and uses that to square the corners.

The Bidstrups have five grandchildren. It is easy to imagine each one snuggling to sleep under a grandpa quilt. But there are no grandpa quilts in the family. Betty and he own just one of the quilts he worked on. Two years ago his quilting companions insist that the Bidstrups keep one he was particularly fond of. It is decorated with a Christmas theme.

Bidstrup never knows who gets the quilts he works on. All of his quilts go to HALO, Habitat for Humanity or Lutheran World Relief. The ones for Lutheran World Relief are loaded into a railroad boxcar in Sturtevant every October. Then it is time to start sewing for the following October.

Betty is glad David has found a hobby at their old sewing machine.

“It would drive both of us batty, I think, if he didn’t have this hobby. He goes down every day for a couple of hours.” When asked, she says she does not worry that the women in the church sewing group will steal him from her. She knows, though, how much they like his work. “They know it will be done well, and they like the color combinations.”

Control line flying maintains appeal

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Salem man builds planes in winter, flies them in summer


Story by Julie Rossman

Joe Connelly is a man of many hobbies and interests. The 77-year-old retiree from Salem is a regular bowler, he plays piano, he raises tropical fish, and he loves to go fishing. Connelly also volunteers for the Westosha Senior Center garden, for St. Vincent de Paul, and he belongs to a senior group at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside — all things he admittedly loves to do.

But Connelly got real excited when he found folks were still active in a hobby from his teenage years — control line model airplane flying.

“I got on an Internet site and found that they’re still doing this!” he said. “I thought, ‘I think I’m gonna get back into it,’“ he added.

Control line airplanes are controlled usually by two wires that extend from one of the wings of the plane, and are attached to a control handle held by the pilot, about 60 feet away. The plane is propelled by an alcohol powered engine and once it is flying, the pilot turns in circles to fly the plane.

It was 2005 when Connelly started flying again — after a 50-year break, and he says he got dizzy. “I fell down after I landed the first time, but I got over that,” he said.

Further Internet research led him to a message board where other control line plane enthusiasts talked with each other. Connelly asked if anybody flew in the Kenosha area. He knew the hobby was both more fun, and safer to do with others. He heard back from Paul Taylor, from Collierville, Tenn., who said he flew in the Kenosha area each summer when visiting relatives.

The two began flying together in 2008 — calling it the “Cheesehead Fly-in,” at the farm of Taylor’s relatives. According to Connelly, the name came from Taylor, who once said, “I’m gonna come up there and fly with you cheeseheads.”

“Cheesehead Fly-in” stuck. They have T-shirts featuring a winged block of cheese logo, along with the year. After the first year, they found other pilots to join them — a few from Milwaukee, others from Illinois.

Last July, the group flew for the first time at the Westosha Senior Community Center, where Connelly is an active member. Site director Debbie Waldron-Smith arranged to have hot dogs and other refreshments served. There were about 20 spectators who gathered to take it all in.

Not all plans are finalized for the 2014 fly-in, but Connelly hopes to fly at the senior center again, sometime in July.

How it all began

When Connelly was 15 years old his family was living in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He had a job working in a bike shop. Connelly says one day a salesman came in and convinced the owner to sell model airplane kits in his store. Connelly entered a contest, sponsored by the salesman, to build a small World War II replica airplane.

“There were 20 entries — I won the contest,” Connelly said. The prize was a large model plane kit. In addition, the salesman told Connelly he was looking for someone to build model planes with.

Connelly spent time over at his house building planes, and they eventually started a club. Connelly kept at it for about three years before he says he became interested in “girls and cars,” and dropped the hobby.

Now, it is Connelly who is looking for some folks to build and to fly planes with. He is happy to have met Taylor, and looks forward to the Cheesehead Fly-in each year. “I just wish he lived here,” Connelly said of Taylor.

“We need more people in this area — it can be dangerous to fly by yourself.”

Connelly believes it was World War II that really inspired the hobby. When he was a young boy, Connelly says his heroes were war pilots. “There were a lot of magazine articles on airplanes and flying — It gave the hobby a big boost,” he said.

The control line model airplane hobby has been somewhat taken over by the RC, or remote control airplane hobby, according to Connelly, but he prefers control line flying. He says it can cost about $1,000 to get started with an RC plane, whereas a $200 investment can get you started in the control line hobby.

Connelly also likes how the control line feels in his hands. “It’s not like you’re playing a video game, you actually feel the airplane in your hand,” he said.

He wishes more young people would get involved in the hobby. “Now they’ve got video games, etc.,” Connelly said.

The control line hobby takes a lot of time and patience, according to Connelly. From start to finish, it can take him two to three months to finish one plane.

“But I do see some young people doing it, too,” Connelly said.

People like Taylor’s son, Ryan. Taylor says he himself learned the hobby as a child, and got reacquainted with it when his own son was 8 years old. Now, his son is 23, and the two still share the hobby.

Connelly currently has six “fly-able” planes in his fleet. “I don’t have much chance to fly, but I still love to build them,” he said.

For more information:

For those interested in the hobby, who would like to contact Joe, please email:

For more information on the control line hobby, visit

To watch a You Tube video of the “Cheesehead Fly-in,” do a Google search for “You Tube Cheezehead fly in 2013” or go to: