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Elbow grease, TLC transform scrap wood into rosaries

Larry Day shows off his radial arm saw, a tool that plays a crucial role in his rosary-making process. Larry makes each of his rosaries by hand and out of the wood from a variety of sources — from church kneelers to dead trees. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MOIRA CULLINGS

by Moira Cullings

BUCYRUS — Diana Day’s favorite rosary is more than an instrument for prayer.

Its beads contain a connection to her family history.

The beads were crafted by Diana’s husband Larry out of old kneelers from Queen of the Holy Rosary Church, Bucyrus, where Diana’s family has belonged since its founding.

“I know that my great-great-grandfather and grandmother knelt on the kneelers,” said Diana, “and right on down the line — from my parents clear down to us.”

Larry Day holds up one of his rosaries flanked by his wife Diana. Diana’s family has belonged to Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Bucyrus since its founding, and Larry has made many rosaries from the church’s old kneelers, which would have otherwise been thrown away. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MOIRA CULLINGS

Larry has made countless rosaries, crucifixes and other household items from scratch, using all sorts of wood — from church kneelers to dead trees.

The results are a sentimental — and spiritual — keepsake that recipients of his work cherish for a lifetime.

Something out of nothing

In 2006, Queen of the Holy Rosary’s church building turned 100 years old.

The wear and tear it had undergone prompted the need for new kneelers, and Larry discovered the old ones were being thrown away.

“I thought, ‘I want some of the kneelers,’” he said. “‘Maybe I can make something out of them.’

“So, I kept them for a while.”

Larry mulled over what to do with the 23 kneelers he obtained until he came up with the idea to make rosaries.

“He was trying to think of something to make that I would like,” said Diana, “and he knew that rosaries were something special.”

Larry Day holds out one of the crucifixes he made by hand. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MOIRA CULLINGS

At first, Larry was hesitant.

“It sounded pretty tedious for a big old guy with big old hands like mine,” he said.

Eventually, he decided to try it, and his first rosary was a success.

But the beads were square because of how they were cut, and Larry wanted to take the process a step further.

While visiting a woodcraft shop, where he spoke with an employee about his predicament, he learned of a technique to make traditional round beads.

The first rosary Larry Day made, on the far left, had square beads. Since then, he’s added an additional step to his rosary-making process to round the beads out. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MOIRA CULLINGS

The employee knew of someone who had strapped a box to a belt sander to round out small pieces of wood.

“That sounded pretty good to me,” said Larry. “So, I came home and built [one].”

And he’s never looked back.

Larry’s rosary-making process is unmatched.

After cutting a piece of wood into small squares, he places the pieces into an open box, attaches it to a belt sander and turns it on so the beads tumble up and down the belt, a process that slowly rounds them out.

He then lines up about 60 at a time on a string of wire, varnishes them and carefully spreads them out to dry.

The process of putting the actual rosary together takes him about two hours.

The only elements of his rosaries that aren’t homemade are the wire, medal and crucifix.

Larry Day does most of his woodworking in his basement workshop. He spends several hours making each rosary from scratch. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MOIRA CULLINGS

Larry also uses old wood to make large crucifixes, which Diana said was challenging for him in a different way.

“He said that putting these crosses together really bothered him at first because he had to nail Jesus to the cross,” she said. “And it took him a little bit to be able to get it done.”

‘A gift of love’

Larry has taken all sorts of unusual requests throughout the years.

One woman had an old crutch her grandfather had made her when she was a little girl, and she asked Larry to make some rosaries out of it.

Another couple brought him a 35-year-old dead tree they had planted outside the first house they built together.

Larry’s personal stash of wood has come from various places, like the Oratory of St. Patrick in Kansas City, Missouri, and one of the original Bucyrus houses that was torn down.

The effort he puts into his creations touches his customers.

“They seem to love them,” said Larry. “I have a lot of people who say they use them every day.”

“I’ve been to two or three funerals of people who have been buried with my rosaries laying across the top of them,” he added. “That’s pretty humbling to think they think enough of my rosary to do that.”

Larry Day cuts wood with his radial arm saw outside since it produces sawdust. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MOIRA CULLINGS

Rosie Guetterman of Queen of the Holy Rosary said the rosary she received from Larry, which is made from the church’s kneelers, is “priceless.”

“My husband Paul and I were born and raised in the parish and have made all our sacraments at QHR and kneeled on the kneelers when we received our first Communion,” she said.

Guetterman is inspired by Larry’s innovative spirit.

“Everything Larry does is a gift of love,” she said. “He takes pride in his beautiful hobby and shares with everyone.

“If we had more Larry Days in the world, we would be a much better place.”

Busy retirement

Larry retired around 20 years ago from his job at Gill Studios, Inc., in Lenexa, where he worked for just over 41 years.

Although he has some experience fixing up his own house, his woodworking skills are self-taught.

Larry said he simply figures things out through trial and error.

“I’ve always been a working person,” he said. “I grew up in a pretty poor situation with my family. We didn’t know we were poor. We thought everybody was just like us.”

Larry Day said he’s always figured things out through trial and error. His childhood shaped the work ethic he has even in retirement. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MOIRA CULLINGS

Larry attended a one-room schoolhouse in northeast Missouri with 10 students total. After seventh grade, the school closed, and he was bussed into a larger town.

He wasn’t raised Catholic but converted to the faith around seven years after marrying Diana.

“We were raising our young family,” he said. “I decided to join the church. I thought the Catholic Church was the original one, and I liked that. I’ve been here ever since.”

Now, Larry spends his free time attending daily Mass and cranking out rosaries in his basement workshop.

“It’s been fun,” he concluded simply. “I’ve enjoyed it.”

If you are interested in Larry’s work and would like to request a rosary or crucifix, contact him at: ldayrosarymkr@gmail.com or call (913) 709-6916 and leave a message.

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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