An Extraordinary Life: Bolingbrook man carved out quite a niche
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent October 27, 2013 10:07PM
At 96, Manuel Shellist of Bolingbrook created this 8-foot piece of the Gettysburg Address, which he had memorized as a child. | Supplied photo
Updated: December 1, 2013 6:47AM
Karen Luksa of Joliet couldn’t believe how hard her father, Manuel “Mannie” Shellist, was working on his latest wood carving piece.
It was an 8-foot rendition of the Gettysburg Address, which Shellist — who was 96 at the time — had memorized in grade school.
“I said, ‘Dad, you’re working so hard on this,’ and he said, ‘I want to make sure it’s done before I die,’ ” Luksa said. “Well, he had a few years left.”
Shellist, of Bolingbrook and formerly of Wilmette, was 102 when he died Oct. 7.
It wasn’t until Shellist was 93, and after the death of his wife Sara Shellist, that he even learned wood carving at the Glenview Senior Center, Luksa said.
When the Gettysburg Address piece was completed, a friend stained it, another constructed a frame, and the piece then traveled around Illinois. It visited schools, libraries, Ravinia in Highland Park and even the Lincoln museum in Springfield, Luksa said.
“He entered it in contests, and it won prizes, too,” Luksa said.
At the age of 98, Shellist created a 3-foot wood carving of The Ten Commandments. This piece travels primarily among family members, although it currently is displayed at the Joliet Jewish Congregation, where Shellist was a congregant.
Shellist also created a tissue holder for Luksa and several plaques, with one favorite reading “God Bless America.”
Using a single tool, Shellist also designed numerous 3-inch decorative name plates for family and friends.
“If he liked anyone in the least bit, he’d make them a name plate,” Luksa said.
Part of Shellist’s love for the craft stemmed from his keen work ethic, Luksa said. As a young boy, Shellist and his two brothers and twin sister would sit around the kitchen table and perform piecework to help their widowed mother earn extra money.
As an adult, Shellist and his brothers formed a business that sold sundries to retail stores. When Shellist retired at age 60, he assisted at the Niles Township Sheltered Workshop. He noticed how the extreme disabilities of the other workers hindered their ability to earn maximum amounts of money. So he invented a “jig” to hold the two pieces of wood so the workers needed only to turn in the screw. He then fabricated and distributed hundreds of those jigs, Luksa said.
“He always made my brother and I feel that we could do anything if we just kept trying,” Luksa said. “He always wanted people to feel better about themselves.”
Chronic pneumonia plagued him the last five years of his life. That’s when Shellist moved into a studio apartment at Heritage Woods of Bolingbrook, where he created a wood piece of the facility’s mission statement.
While living there, Shellist also noticed that the entrance doors and the foyer doors both opened at the same time, chilling the residents sitting near that area. He adjusted the doors so only one set opened at a time.
“He was never one of the people sitting there, because he didn’t believe in sitting,” Luksa said. “He was always telling people, ‘Get up. Move around. Do crafts. Do something. Don’t sit around waiting to die.’ ”
Shellist exemplified his words up to the end of his life by engaging in such activities such as being on Heritage Woods’ Wii bowling team and playing in its tournaments.
His impeccable memory remained intact almost to his last hour.
“When he was very sick in bed and dying, he was saying the ‘Gettysburg Address,’ ” Luksa said, “and he was very upset that he could not remember parts of it.”
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