For Don Petersman, a World War II veteran and Catholic Order of Foresters member, gifting nearly 2,000 of his handmade wooden cross necklaces to friends, family members, and anyone he meets has been a highlight of his life.
All it took for Don Petersman to start making more wooden cross necklaces were compliments from people who saw him wearing his. Don, a 95-year-old World War II veteran and member of Gonzaga 1572 in Cincinnati, Ohio, decided it was time to start making even more of them. 2,000 crosses later, and nearly as many hearts touched, Don believes in the power of the cross as not just a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and victory over sin, but as a sign of inspiration, friendship, and benevolence.
“I had a workshop down in my basement and thought that making some crosses would be a good thing, and it kind of snowballed into [making] a lot of them,” said Don.
At the most recent Gonzaga 1572 Christmas party, Don wore a cross, and, like usual, it sparked interest from those who saw it.
“These crosses have been a big thing in my life,” said Don. “They’ve not only helped me, but they’ve helped other people. Some people need inspiration.”
Don remembers giving a cross to a family friend whose daughter had just been involved in a brutal car accident. She made a full recovery soon after receiving a cross from Don.
“Every once in a while, someone would say they’re sick or their mother was sick, and I’d give them a cross, and they’d be so thankful,” said Don. “People really loved it. It was almost like the cross was from heaven.”
Don’s daughter Ann, who’s also a Catholic Order of Foresters (COF) member, recalls seeing her father spend hours in his basement making the crosses.
“He was retired, and he’d go into the basement in the afternoon to cut wood into crosses with a scroll saw,” said Ann. “He’d stain the wood, drill a hole at the top, and then thread the twine. He had different stains: some light, some dark, but always the same pattern.”
Don grew up on the west side of Cincinnati, and after serving two years in the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division during World War II, he returned to his hometown and started a family. In his spare time, he participated in Catholic Order of Foresters bowling tournaments and played on the Gonzaga 1572 baseball team with his friends. Ann remembers watching him play in the ‘50s.
In 2018, the Cincinnati Reds asked Don to appear at a home game as part of the club’s Hometown Hero program. When Don walked out onto the dugout wearing a Reds jersey and his wooden cross, “the place went crazy,” said Ann. His picture was on the scoreboard.
“When he got down from the dugout, people took their kids to take photos with him,” said Ann. “Most people don’t know [World War II] veterans, so it was really special for them and my dad. He never dreamed that he would get recognition. He was just a west side kid.”
Don, who’s been a COF member since 1946, says that becoming a member opened his social life and brought him closer to the church.
“[Catholic Order of Foresters] got me more involved with the church,” said Don. “Not that I was ever away from the church, but I went to [court] meetings and did projects. I met a lot of people.”
Today, Don no longer makes wooden crosses, but he keeps a bag of them at the ready. He still hands them out whenever possible.
“When they come back and say thank you,” said Don, “that really makes my heart pound.”
Article by Connor McEleney