Pictured is Steve Hensley and Harold Spallinger next to the Purple Martin house they recently made for a Hilty Home employee. Hensley volunteers twice a week to help Spallinger with the wood working projects in the shop. (Putnam Sentinel/Monica Gerdeman)
Pictured is Steve Hensley and Harold Spallinger next to the Purple Martin house they recently made for a Hilty Home employee. Hensley volunteers twice a week to help Spallinger with the wood working projects in the shop. (Putnam Sentinel/Monica Gerdeman)

PANDORA - The Purple Martin is the largest member of the swallow family in North America. These birds have speed and agility in flight, and when approaching their housing, will dive from the sky at great speeds with their wings tucked. This year as Purple Martins migrated south during the winter to get ready for spring, Harold Spallinger spent his time getting ready for the birds' return.

Spallinger, a resident of Hilty Homes in Pandora, has worked with wood his entire life.

"I started with wooden toys and doll furniture and then on to bird houses. I was living on a busy street in Lima, and I would set the bird houses in my yard. They would sell just as fast as I wanted to make them. One day, a man stopped by and asked me to make him a Purple Martin house. After a lot of research, I finished my first one and I've enjoyed making them ever since."
Spallinger retired from General Dynamic after 10 years and before that worked at Clark Equipment.


"I retired on Sept. 1, 1992, and started putting all my spare time into wood working," he said.

As Spallinger and his wife, Rosalie, approach their two-year mark at Hilty Homes, he remembers the work they used to do together.

"Rosalie did all of the painting and detail work, and man was she good at it," said Spallinger.

The couple has three sons, one of whom is deceased.

"Our oldest son lives in Findlay, Illinois and the youngest lives here in Pandora. We have six grand kids, nine great-grand kids, two step-grandchildren and three step-great-grandchildren," he said. "All together, it's a lot to keep track off."

Spallinger has made many creations from wood including: trucks, trains, bull dozers, bells, airplanes, ready-mix trucks, toy chests, boxes of all shapes and sizes, giraffe coat racks, dump trucks, tractors, crafts, rocking horses, windmills, doll furniture, and full size cradles to name a few.

When asked what his favorite creation was, Spallinger answered, "anything made of wood."

Currently, Steve Hensley volunteers at Hilty Homes to help Spallinger with his wood creations, and the two of them recently finished a new Purple Martin house for an employee.

"I volunteer here twice a week, and Harold and I go down to the work shop for about two hours," said Hensley. "My aunt also resides here and I bring my dog, who is a therapy dog, so essentially I kill three birds with one stone while building bird houses," chuckled Hensley.

Most of the Purple Martin houses that Spallinger makes sit far off the ground.

"The poles that the homes sit on are to be buried three feet in a concrete base and will sit anywhere from 15 to 18 feet in the air. Each house has 14 compartments for birds to stay and the compartments can come out to be cleaned every Fall. Once winter is about to hit and the house is cleaned, each compartment can be turned around to block any animals from getting into the house," said Spallinger.

"Steve and I have made 12 'Noah's Ark Bird Houses' and have a few more on order," said Spallinger. "We make them for the activity department here and the proceeds benefit the residents. The money we make pays for the entertainment."

Spallinger and Hensley make their bird houses from donated wood.

"Sometimes we get a piece donated at a time and sometimes it's scrap wood. We used a lot of pine and old barn siding to make the bird houses, too," said Spallinger. "I will be 87 this September, and I'm approaching my second year in Hilty Homes this coming March. I have to say these projects that I have done since I have been living here have been great for me. It's a life saver because I've got to have something to do. I really appreciate what they do for me here."