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Woodworker stumbles upon hobby by accident, carves it into passion

August 6, 2011
By Dorothy McKnight - Lifestyles Editor ( , Daily Press

ESCANABA - How often is it that a man who has absolutely no woodworking experience is asked by the church he attends to craft a large wooden cross to grace the wall behind the altar?

Irving "Thomas" Lancour was attending the Escanaba Free Lutheran Church with his wife, Betsy, and their family, when he was approached in 1987 by their pastor, Rev. Jerome Nikunan, to build a six-foot cross to erect behind the church altar.

"I always liked looking at wood but never made anything up until that time," Lancour said. "It was my idea how to make it, but he helped me actually do it. We had a whole bunch of maple and It ended up looking real good."

Article Photos

Wood crafter Irving Lancour of Escanaba is adept at creating three varieties of musical wooden spoons. (Daily Press photo by Dorothy McKnight)

When it came time to put the cross in place, Lancour said Pastor Nikunan wanted to attach it directly to the wall. Lancour had other ideas.

"I said I wanted it to stand out from the wall and put blue lighting behind it," he said. "He (Nikunan) finally agreed and now I think it makes the cross look so much better."

Pastor and Lancour ended up hunting and fishing together over the years.

"He ended up being a really good buddy," Lancour said.

After the cross was completed, Lancour's woodworking skills began to grow and he spearheaded a renovation drive in the church that included the construction of a completely new nursery and kitchen cabinets to be installed in the newly remodeled kitchen. He also helped remodel the church basement.

"It was an old church with old stuff when we started the renovation," Betsy explained. "There were no Sunday school rooms and no place to take any babies that came with their parents. There was also only one bathroom in the entire building."

But Lancour's exceptional woodworking skills were not regulated to his church. He later began making doll furniture and an assortment of wooden toys.

An unusual project that Lancour enjoys is fashioning musical wooden spoons. He currently makes them in three different designs and Betsy is quite adept in playing them all.

"They're all made from one block of wood," Lancour explained. "When I'm done carving them, I varnish them but don't put on any stain."

Lancour's latest project is creating 90 small wooden crosses that will go into each of the rooms at the Lutheran Nursing Home in Marinette, Wis., where Lancour's son, Darrell, serves as administrator.

"When he (Darrell) first asked me to make them, I thought he was kidding," Lancour said. "I had made one for his office and he liked it so much he thought they would be nice for each of the rooms."

Lancour refers to his cross design as a "Trinity" cross because they are made in three layers.

"Just like the Trinity of God in the Bible," Betsy said with a smile.

Born and raised on a farm in the Osier area, Lancour was one of 17 children (including three sets of twins). He remembers his family gathering around the kitchen table on benches during mealtime. He later moved to Escanaba and lived with an older brother and attended Escanaba schools.

Lancour met his future wife while playing the clarinet in the Escanaba High School Marching Band's homecoming parade. He graduated from EHS in 1955.

Following his marriage to his wife, Betsy, on June 23, 1956, the couple took up residence in the former Immanual Lutheran Church parsonage and lived in the home for 40 years. They raised four sons and also have nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

During his working years, Lancour worked at Harnischfeger and later the Escanaba Steam Laundry for 10 years, where he worked as both a route driver and in maintenance. After leaving the laundry, Lancour worked for the next 32 years at the local paper mill, retiring in 2000.

Both Lancour and his wife are still active members of the church Lancour helped refurbish.



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