Holiday toy giveaway Montgomery Place resident hosts toy giveaway

Bill Barron, 92-year-old former engineer, poses with some of the wooden toys he made in the basement shop of Montgomery Place, 5550 South Shore Dr., Tuesday, Dec. 6. - Marc Monaghan
Bill Barron, 92-year-old former engineer, poses with some of the wooden toys he made in the basement shop of Montgomery Place, 5550 South Shore Dr., Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

The holiday season is upon us and a Montgomery Place resident is celebrating the season of giving by making handcrafted toys for the children of employees at Montgomery Place, 5550 S. Shore Dr.

Bill Barron and his wife Dottie set out his handcrafted wooden toys for display, Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 6, at Montgomery Place for their annual Toys for Toddlers giveaway.

Barron was trained as a metallurgist and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. Prior to his retirement in 1988, he worked as national sales manager for Waukesha Foundry, Inc., in Waukesha, Wis.

Barron said making toys helps him to stay busy and out his wife, Dottie’s hair.

“It is kind of necessary for me to have something to do,” Barron said. “[Making toys] is not a full-time job but it’s something that keeps me busy, and I enjoy doing it.”

Barron gets inspiration for the design of the toys from different publications. He uses those to carve out the design for his toys.

“There are several publications that I come across over a few years….I am not a creator of designs I am a maker of things,” Barron said. “If I have a sketch or a plan then I am good, I can go from there.”

To make toys, Barron uses a scroll saw, drill press, and belt sander to create alligators, elephants, giraffes, birds, lions, boats, airplanes, and trucks. Many have moveable wheels and wings.

He works on one toy at a time and paints each of the toys “kid-friendly” colors such as red, green, and yellow. Barron spends 11 to 14 hours a week in Montgomery Place’s workshop, making toys as well as stained glass windows.

All in all this year, he created 47 handcrafted wooden toys that included, boats, trucks, alligators, airplanes, and an animal parade with a lion, elephant, giraffe, bear, hippo, and camel that are linked together as a train through magnets. The toy giveaway also features wooden blocks.

Barron and his wife, Dottie came to Montgomery Place in 2010 from Durango, Colo. Since they have been in Chicago, they have hosted five or six holiday toy giveaways.

Before moving to Montgomery Place, Barron completed larger wood projects. He also made stained glass panels once displayed in the Artisans 21 Gallery, which is now closed.

Recently, he worked alongside another Montgomery Place resident, Mae Wygant and used the resident workshop to create stained glass panes for the Montgomery Place Library.

The toys are a hot commodity at Montgomery Place, each year, Barron’s toys are gone within the three-hour window of the toy drive. On Tuesday, it was the animal parade that caught the attention of those who came to see the toys on display. Each Montgomery Place employee is allowed to take a toy for his or her children or grandchildren.

Montgomery Place employee, Shyleyna Brown was excited to see the toys on display and even began to play with them. Brown took toys home for her three children.

“I want to take all of these toys and sit in the middle of the floor [and play],” Brown said.

His two stepdaughters, Susan Ullman and Barb Malchick, were both at the giveaway to lend support. Ullman is visiting from Colorado and Malchick from Alaska.

“We are very proud of him and inspired by him,” Ullman said.

“What I love is how humble he is. He’s doing it because he cares about the staff,” Malchick said.

As a child, Barron used kits as well as materials he found in his area to create model airplanes. He said his exposure to building things with his hands is likely why he became an engineer.

When asked what advice he would give to an aspiring engineer who plays with his toys he suggested that they forge their own path.

“I have a son who spent his career as an art teacher and he always told his kids to forget about the lines,” Barron said. “You get these pictures by staying in the lines, forget it do what you want to do, do what you see and would I say the same to them.”