Ron Clements is the first to crack a joke in an elevator full of people, and he always thanks strangers for smiling at him. But the 64-year-old Tooele resident hasn’t always been this way. Throughout his adult life, Clements noticed he was a bit of a loner. He enjoyed spending time alone, even though he had a family, including two children.
“I didn’t interact with a lot of people or go out and do things,” he said. “I tried to stay away from as many people as I could, even people that I felt comfortable around.”
Clements grew up in Rush Valley — then it was called Clover — and after he graduated from Tooele High School in 1968, he joined the Army. Several years later in 2006, Clements decided to go to the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City for care and found out he has PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, likely caused from his time serving during the Vietnam War.
“When I found out I had PTSD, the hospital told me that I had to do some training to teach me how to deal with everyday things,” Clements said. “I had to pick a therapeutic class. There were all kinds of options, like writing, swimming and bowling, but one thing they had was wood carving. I’d always wanted to do that, so I took wood carving.”
Clements learned how to wood carve from the class teacher, Tom Hollingsworth, who was also a Vietnam veteran.
“He handed me this little teeny aspen tree and told me to carve something out of it, so I carved me a walking stick,” Clements said. “I call it my Vietnam story stick.”
Another thing Clements’ therapist at the VA Hospital told him he needed to do to help his PTSD was to find a way to be a bigger part of his community.
“Tom told me I needed to start a wood carving class at the local senior citizens’ centers, so that’s what I did,” he said. “It took me probably a year to get them to realize wood carving would be something the seniors could do, but now I’ve been doing it for almost three years.”
Since he started teaching Tooele County seniors wood carving once a week at both the Grantsville and Tooele senior centers, he has helped them to carve Christmas ornaments, Halloween pumpkins and comfort birds — birds they can hold in their hands for comfort. He also teaches wood carving at the VA Hospital now, because his teacher, Hollingsworth, lost his sight.
Clements typically has four to five people in his classes, which works out well for him so he can give them one-on-one attention and help with their projects.
“I have one student that’s so good he has a second income now from doing wood carving,” he said. “It takes them almost a full year to learn, like it did me, but they really get good.”
Clements also makes sure to push safety on his students. He makes sure his students wear a Kevlar glove on the hand they use to hold their carving and a thumb guard on the hand they hold their carving tools with. The wood used for Clements’ class is mostly basswood, which is easy to work with.
“It’s therapeutic for them,” he said. “You see a lot of them that would just stay home and do nothing. We have a woman who made a whole bunch of aprons with a pouch that catches the wood chips, so now they can sit down, watch TV and carve, and they don’t get chips all over.”
Clements’ basement has turned into a wood shop since he found his hobby. Several of his older grandchildren are learning the art of wood carving from their grandpa, which is something they get to do once a week when their daily chore is to be “grandpa’s helper.”
Over the last few years, Clements has carved everything from a Coca-Cola clock for his daughter, to earrings and necklaces for his granddaughters. The clock he carved won second place in a wood carving show put on by the Great Salt Lake Woodcarvers organization. Clements uses everything from knives to files to carve his creations.
“I carved all my granddaughters [a necklace] and matching earrings, and I catch them wearing them all the time,” he said. “They always let me know when they’re wearing them.”
Tooele resident Tammie Daniel, Clements’ daughter, said it’s amazing to see how much her dad gives back to the people around him.
“My dad is my hero,” she said. “He does so much for our family and gives back to people around him. Everyone knows who he is, because he always has a joke to tell and makes everyone smile and laugh. He’s a great man.”
Daniel said Clements has had such an impact on the community that about a year ago, someone anonymously gave him a $500 check. Clements used it to buy new tools and materials for his wood carving classes at the senior centers.
Overall, Clements is grateful he found a positive outlet for his PTSD symptoms, especially because teaching the wood carving classes doesn’t only benefit him, but also the community.
“Wood carving has brought me around because it’s something I can do and can share with other people,” Clements said. “Just like when I was in Vietnam, when times get tough the tough get going. That’s where I say to myself, ‘That’s where I shine.’ That’s how I live my life.”