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Tanglewood Timber Products owner Frank Pender often encourages people to "think outside the box." Here he holds a "mystery box" made by a former student from a piece of maple wood burl.
September 04, 2012
DALLAS -- Frank Pender, a longtime teacher in Dallas, may have retired from teaching, but his drive to help people learn and succeed remains strong.
In his shop at Dallas' Tanglewood Timber Products, Pender holds up a piece of burl wood that has been carved into a thin platter. It was a gift from an artist who often buys wood from Pender. The piece could be described as an assignment.
"I gave him this and said `Here, let's see what you can make," Pender recalled. "Let's get outside your box."
The wood is beautiful and the craftsmanship unique. Pender is obviously proud.
"You never know what people can do," he said. "Your imagination becomes your limitation."
Pender's transition from teacher to forester and mill owner likely had roots in his childhood.
Chain saw carver David Hillesland, one of Pender's "students," got his start in the business with encouragement from Pender, here point out one of Hillesland's works.
His father was in the lumber business, buying lumber from 23 mills in Multnomah and Clackamas counties and shipping it to a broker in Indiana.
He said he had fond memories of riding with his dad in the family's 1949 Studebaker pickup to visit mills.
One mill in Sandy was a special favorite. Mill workers could see cars pull into the parking lot from the old straddle carriers they used to move the lumber in the yard.
"We would go to the Sandy mill and they (the mill workers) would see us coming in that 1949 Studebaker and the guys would race in from the lumber yard with those carriers to see who would get to take me for a ride.
"I'll tell you, at 4 or 5 years old, I was all for it. That's cool stuff," Pender continued. "I guess the sawdust is in my blood, my brains or my heart."
Another calling was in his heart, too: teaching.
For 30 years he taught middle school students in Dallas. He loved the job, even if he came across as stern.
"I really loved my kids," he said. "I was a pretty tough teacher. You ask anybody who is 25 to 55. But I had a job to do."
That job was making sure his students developed into learners, seekers. He said he was honored to take the responsibility.
Pender deals largely in "recovery trees," salvaged timber or burl stumps that might otherwise be burned as firewood or left in the woods to rot.
During the summers, though, the sawdust beckoned. He spent those months cutting firewood or helping friends with logging operations.
Nearly 33 years ago, his life changed -- in more than one way -- when he met the woman who would become his wife, Alice.
They have a romantic story: He asked her to marry him on their first date.
Needless to say, it was quite a date.
They attended a bluegrass festival, had dinner, and took a moonlight stroll in Dallas City Park.
Then at 3:30 a.m., they decided to drive out to the coast to watch the sunrise.
"Well, you don't go to the beach to watch the sunrise, you go to the beach to watch it set," Pender said, laughing at the memory.
On their way back home, Alice suggested they take a walk on her family's tree farm.
"We walked up on this old logging trail that went back in the woods up here," Pender said, pointing to a hillside behind the shop. "I said `Let's get married.' She said 'OK.'"
When Pender logged on the property a few years ago, he left that stand of trees and marked the trail "Engagement Walk."
After they were married, Pender continued cutting firewood.
Wanting to produce lumber rather than firewood, in 1983 Pender sold his house in Monmouth and bought a sawmill. He assembled it on the tree farm and launched Tanglewood Timber.
The business includes a sawmill and wood drying kiln, surrounded by 80 acres of trees.
Pender hasn't logged on the property in four years, but there's no shortage of timber coming in from salvage operations or custom jobs.
Pender's mill is powered by a Volkswagen 1800cc motor and allows him to infinitely adjust the size and shape of lumber cut from large trees.
"It's grown," Pender said of his business. "I ship lumber all over the country.
"I'm a one-man show," he said. "I don't hire anybody to work for me or with me."
Much like the way he could -- and still does -- see potential in students, Pender sees possibility in logs others might not.
"These are all recovery trees," Pender said. "Trees that would have been burned or slashed or left in the woods to rot."
Taking his own "think outside the box" advice, Pender branched out from just logging and running a mill.
About seven years ago, Pender ventured into drying wood for customers.
He didn't know how to build a kiln, but did some research and set up a drying system with a hot water heater and equipment he had available.
"I got into it because there got to be a demand for it." he said. "I found out I was doing it nontraditional. You just don't dry lumber that way. Well, I've had great success. It's very, very lucrative and it's a great service I can provide people."
And Pender still is teaching, though his classroom has changed.
David Hillesland, a chain saw carver and owner of Oregon Chainsaw Sculptures, is one of his "students."
"He took me under his wing and helped get me started," Hillesland said. "He treated me as one of his students."
Hillesland's carving began with bears, but soon enough, Pender pushed him to try other forms -- and donated the logs needed for new projects.
Hillesland said Pender has the same relationship with many more people in the community.
"Frank is the type of guy -- he's a doer -- he's always looking out for everyone else," Hillesland said.
Pender also performs a considerable amount of public service. He donates materials for and teaches at Polk Soil & Water Conservation District's outdoor school. Also, he serves on the board of directors of the conservation district, Willamette Education Service District and the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments.
On top of that, we donates lumber and labor for nonprofits and local school construction projects.
Hillesland said he's trying to follow that example.
"Mentors these days are few and far between," he said. "Now everybody has the Internet on their phone."
But he believes those people are missing something if they just rely on what they find online. Hillesland said he wouldn't have had the benefit of Pender's wisdom if he had followed that path.
Hillesland has taken a piece of that wisdom and turned it into his business motto: "Our only limitation is our own imagination."
"I believe that," Hillesland said.