New Milford’s wooden toymakers leave a void
NEW MILFORD — For decades, they did the same thing: playing Santa Claus in New Milford. They would make toys of wood in their garages and drop them off to the area’s less-fortunate children. Now they’re done.
Seven years ago, Roland Miller, 76, and Bill McKay formed a fast friendship. It ended with McKay’s death in May at 85. Now, Miller has hung up his toymaking tools. He decided to quit Tuesday. Four decades of hard work was enough, he said. He had picked up a new hobby. He was tired, he said.
Although they were doing basically the same unique thing in the same small town, they didn’t know of each other for years. They met when McKay’s wife heard that McKay, who was ill, wasn’t the only toymaker in town.
That’s when they discovered their similarities.
“Bill and I sat around for hours, just chatting,” said Miller.
They shared more than just a hobby. Both been in the military around the same time: Miller in the Navy, McKay in the Air Force. They knew the same people — New Milford’s woodworking folk: distributors, shops and hardware store clerks.
But their passion for woodworking and generosity bound them together. They would both challenge themselves with difficult projects, and upon completion they gave their hard work away.
Over lengthy talks, they realized how close they had come to meeting. “At points, we got our wood at the same place,” Miller said.
After the loss of his friend and retirement from his main hobby, Miller wishes they had met earlier.
“You pass through your life one time, and you meet somebody that’s lived the same life late in life,” Miller said. “We were too much alike; it was looking at yourself through a glass window.”
McKay’s son, William Francis McKay, said he couldn’t count the number of toys his father made and gave away over the years, and McKay’s obituary places the number around 500, all of which he gave away.
Miller estimates he has made and donated 10,000 toys over the years, he said, adding one of the reasons he stopped was because he had just made too many.
He gave one of those toys to McKay after illness robbed McKay of his natural ability with tools.
Miller gave him a wagon made out of a wood neither of the two had seen before, zebrawood, Miller said.
Now that McKay is gone, and Miller is done, Miller said he hopes someone else from New Milford starts making wooden toys for children in need.
To get them started, he is selling his shop, piece by piece, starting Friday.