The Hippo


May 25, 2020








What are you really interested in right now?
I have 10 grandchildren and soon-to-be three great-grandchildren [who] have kept us busy. … We also have a small motorhome that’s been on every corner of the United States as well as Newfoundland. 

Model maker
Retired vet shares his love of paper models


 Can you tell us about your background?

I was born November 27th of 1930 in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, which is a city of about 50,000 on the east bank of the Mississippi River in southwestern Wisconsin. It happened to be Thanksgiving. The family joke has always been that on that particular day my mother had two turkeys. … The family business, which had been going since 1908, was a floral business, greenhouses, in which we had a couple acres of glass-covered greenhouses. And we grew floral crops — cut flowers, potted plants. It’s still going under the leadership of the fourth generation at the present time, so I guess that would make it 110 years old. … One of the first jobs I had … was pulling weeds out from under the tables upon which these crops were growing. And I was paid the exorbitant wage of 10 cents an hour. And that eventually financed my first foray into model building.
How did you first get into model making?
With those 10 cents I earned pulling weeds, combining that with a box top from a Wheaties … I would send in — and this was in the early days of World War II — for the box top and 10 cents, I would receive three paper pages of paper models, all depicting World War II fighter planes from five or six different countries on both sides of the battle. I did that for quite a while. … Most of them, when I put them together — and they probably had an 8-inch wingspan — the wings could be twisted, the control surfaces could be twisted so they could be thrown and they might glide for 20 or 30 feet. Most of them ended up, and particularly those from Germany and Japan, with their noses lit afire, and of course, they always crashed under those circumstances. … There was a long period of time when I had to put model-making aside. Four years of college and two years in the Army during the Korean War, and of course my career at the family business went on for about 35 years, during which time my wife and I raised a family. Then we moved to New Hampshire in 1987. I left the family business and became a salesman in the same type of industry.
When was the moment you rediscovered the paper models?
I got involved in actually building [radio controlled planes] but I never learned to really fly them. Somebody else had to fly them. I built four of them and two of them unfortunately crashed on their maiden voyage. … Then, I would say about six years ago, I was looking through some old schoolwork in a box that I had saved actually from junior high school. At the bottom of this box were these planes from the World War II fighter planes. … I was quite thrilled to find some of these 65-year-old planes. Each model came on two sheets of roughly 8x10 paper. … So, for old time’s sake, I built a couple of those and I think I might have sold the plans to a few people who knew about them. … And one of the buyers told me about a website called fiddlersgreen[.net]. … This website is a source of plans for paper models of all kinds. … I’ve probably built between 150 and 200 models over the last five years. 
You now share your love of model-making with public presentations, such as the one planned at the Veterans Home. What is the purpose of sharing this? Do you see model-making as a cure for boredom, a form of therapy or a dying art form?
I don’t think it’s a dying art form at all, but I think it’s all the things that you suggested. It can be therapy, it can be filling the long hours of someone who has retired and has never developed a hobby before because they were too busy earning a living, and once a person retires and helps his spouse alphabetize their spice cabinets and there’s nothing else to do, they can get into model building. It does take a steady hand. … I think the biggest reward I get is to take something that’s on paper and make a three-dimensional model out of it. Some might take a few hours, and others, like the Titanic, probably took me a few weeks or more. So, it’s therapy for me, in that respect, in the feeling of accomplishing something. 
— Ryan Lessard 

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