Randy Harper, Blind Woodworker

by Jennifer Odom

 

Leaning over his desk at the car dealership, Randy, the service manager, brought the invoice closer to his face. This was crazy. What was going on with his vision? It couldn’t be the lighting. Every bulb in the department was lit up. Bright as day. Yet he could hardly see out of that one eye.

Twenty-two years old was too young for this nonsense. Probably just needed to drink more water.

That was Friday. By the next Wednesday when his dad drove him over to the eye doctor, Randy’s eyesight was shutting off in the other eye, too.

THIEVING DISEASE

The doctor’s face was grim. “I’m sorry. You’ve got Leber’s disease.”

An online resource, Web MD describes the disease as “mainly characterized by bilateral, painless sub-acute loss of central vision during young adult life. In most cases, symptoms begin with one eye first, followed a few weeks later by visual failure in the other eye…”

And just that quick, the disease robbed Randy of his vision and left him legally blind–and reeling.

REMARKABLE

Despite the scalding diagnosis, Randy, now 53, still retains a small amount of peripheral vision. And if need be, he can bring an object a few inches from his eyes and make it out using a strong magnifying glass.

What is most remarkable is that Randy is able to do artistic woodworking, and displays a faith that sustains him. But it wasn’t always that way.

Back in high school, Randy, a self-proclaimed neat-freak, signed up for a shop class. After high school, before he took the car dealership job, he worked as a furniture hauler. Later on, having those needed skills would remind Randy of divine guidance already at work.

But disappointment weighed him down. According to Randy, the most devastating thing for him was the lack of self-sufficiency and a constant dependence on others to find a ride.

With the help of his dad, a Baptist minister, Randy began to sell auto parts to small garages. The schedule was sporadic. Calling on all his accounts took only three days every other week. Frustration hammered him each time a driver quit. Nobody wanted a part-time job.

Four years into his blindness, Randy’s dad died.

Now what could Randy do? He searched for ideas.

Blind Services sent him to massage school in Gainesville where he carpooled with a fellow student from Belleview. This lasted for a little while.

Even with that, Randy eventually fell away from his childhood faith and turned to drugs and alcohol. One thing led to another and he ended up in prison.

TIME TO REFLECT

“My faith was always there,” he said, “but prison’s where I had time to reflect. I spent my time working out and listening to Christian radio on my ear buds.”

Randy’s faith grew while incarcerated. The prison allowed him to do work-release for a year.

After prison, he used the small bit of capital he had gained to purchase lumber. His old high school carpentry skills came into play while he experimented and made a batch of wooden crosses.

Randy made crosses like these.

In the shop he needed those neat-freak skills. “If I hadn’t had those in place, I wouldn’t be able to find anything. I always know where everything is, and if anything is missing.”

TURNING POINT

Encouragement flooded in. Just before Mother’s Day in 2014, 40 of his 100 crosses sold at a local farmer’s market. Now he had a little more capital to work with.

On a whim, a friend dropped off a piece of live edge wood (lumber that retains part of its bark) and said, “See what you can do with it.”

Randy’s first stood was simple like this.

That’s just what Randy did. He formed it into a small simple stool.

Right away it sold. Relatives started requesting items, custom items, and the work piled up. This was Randy’s turning point.

He discovered the Ocala Farmer’s Market and brought his creations there. Customers such as Joyce Baron noticed his talent, paid attention, and made their own  requests. And they  keep coming back for more. She’s already bought three pieces from Randy, and two of those are custom made. “He is one of the nicest men I have ever met and one of the most caring. He’s very talented.

“What I wanted was a cat box,” she said.

Randy built this kitty litter cabinet for Joyce.

All she had to do was explain it and he built it. “It’s rather large, 40 inches tall, and off the floor with feet so you can clean underneath. It looks like a cabinet and you can’t tell it’s a kitty litter box. If you look at it from the front it looks like it has two doors. The workmanship is excellent.”

If you dream it he can make it. This is a display rack, perhaps for a store.

Just about every week you can find Randy at the Ocala Farmer’s Market. Just hunt for the special one-of-a-kind furniture pieces.

Before each event, Randy locates a driver and then packs as much furniture into the back of his pickup truck as it will hold. They bring it down to the Ocala Farmer’s Market or other area venues. All the while Randy reminds himself that the amazing amount he’s got wedged in the back of the truck is all due to those early furniture-hauling skills.

With several friends in the tree and sawmill business, Randy has a steady source of unusual logs. Part of the allure for his custom work is because of the unique variety and types of woods.

Woods the reader may have never seen before.

Back at his shop Randy led me around to view the unique, (and some well-known), woods in his creations.

The shop was a wood-lover’s paradise filled with items made of holly, several varieties of sweet gum, chinaberry, walnut, wild cherry, sycamore, hickory, and camphor. He pointed out the unique grains and the much sought after spaltings, or natural lines caused by fungi that follow the grain and develop after the log sits awhile, but before the lumber is cut.

Three years of creating custom benches, tables, chests, gun safes, and kitchen isles have only scratched the imaginative surface for Randy, leaving him with a list of future ideas he’d like to try.

Strong in his faith now, on Sundays you can find Randy at the Church of Hope in Ocala.

Randy’s life is the perfect example of the little things, God’s gifts that we might not notice, that prepare us for life. It demonstrates the strength we can find when life throws us a curve we wouldn’t have chosen.

Phillipians 4:13, his favorite Bible verse, sums it up:

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

So if you’re down at the Ocala Farmer’s Market, or some other local venue, keep your eyes open for the man with the creative wood furniture. You never know what you might find in Randy’s collection. And if you have an idea, be sure to let him know. He’ll most likely be able to craft it for you.

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=randy%20harper%20cusstom%20woodworking

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.