Watch Now: Central Illinois Carpenters Honor Friend With Gifts For People With Cancer | Health

Passionate about carpentry, Bill Birckelbaw has inspired projects that have helped us all.

BLOOMINGTON – This one was for Bill.

The members of the Central Illinois Woodworkers were no strangers to the project they were about to embark on, but this time there was a personal element.

Longtime member Bill Birckelbaw was receiving treatment at Normal’s Community Cancer Center last year when he met a woman who had lost her hair and needed a wig.

She also needed a wig stand.

Birckelbaw, skilled with tools and skilled in woodworking, set to work – despite his own diagnosis.


Although he completed the project he started – the woman received her wig stand from him – he didn’t feel like he was done, his friend Todd Johnson recalls.

“He has always been a dedicated person to the community,” Johnson said. “He wanted to do something, he wanted to do a whole bunch more of it because there are people across the state and across the country who have a need.”


Left to right, Normal’s John Baker, Normal’s Todd Johnson and Congerville’s Gary Robinson examine a load of lumber destined for carpentry projects as they gathered in the upscale neighborhoods of Normal on August 24 to remember their friend, Bill Birckelbaw.


Birckelbaw, from Bloomington, had the tools, even had his own workshop, and there was no doubt he had the skills to take on the project on his own, if he wanted to.

But at that time he also had cancer. Sometimes it got in the way.

“He helped when he could,” said friend and band member John Baker. “But his health was such that (he couldn’t always).”

Baker, Johnson, and Gary Robinson were members of the Central Illinois Woodworkers, but they were also friends with Birckelbaw outside of the group.

When her health began to decline, they stepped in to make her vision a reality.

“He was disappointed once and broke down because he couldn’t do it,” Baker said. “He wasn’t even able to walk to the store.”

His friends decided to pick up where he left off.

Bill Birckelbaw

Bill Birckelbaw operates a sawmill from his home.


Although the pandemic struck soon after it started, they managed to collect around 700 donated pieces of wood, from which they made 86 wig stand kits for the Central Illinois Woodturners group.

The finished products will then be donated to affiliate Susan G. Komen Memorial in Peoria, where they will be distributed.

It certainly wasn’t the first time a group of carpenters had made wig stands: In 2018, a member of the Central Illinois Woodturners was featured in the Woodford County Journal for similar work.

What made things different this time, however, was that for the four men who put the kits together, there was a new sense of urgency.

“I spoke to (Birkelbaw) several times after he went to the hospital for about a week before he passed away,” Baker recalls. “He said he was very happy we did, but he continued to apologize for not completing it until the end.”

Birckelbaw passed away on June 12, living long enough to know the kits were finished, but not long enough to see them turn into the finished products he envisioned.

“I think we accomplished what we planned to do, which was getting the components ready for the turners so they can turn the wig stands and put them in people’s hands,” Johnson said.

Baker said: “I think he would have been really happy with it.”

Baker added that “98%” of the work the three men did was directly in memory of their friend – but they might not end there.

Wig stand

The wig stand that Bill Birckelbaw made before his friends completed the project.


Even though “Bill’s passing took a little breath away,” Baker said, the three are still weighing their next community service project and would love to hear from anyone with an idea.

“I think our message with this project was, there was an expert carpenter who wanted to give back to the community… and we just wanted to help him achieve that,” Johnson said.

Following the completion of the project and the death of their friend, Baker said: “We haven’t figured out what to expect yet and we’ll probably have to hire a new person, as four people and a carpentry shop are what you really need. We just knew we wanted to help achieve Bill’s goal. “

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