OSAGE | It was the annual Christmas dance at the Osage VFW, and among the many whirling couples on the dance floor was Lee Cowell and his dance partner, Leanna Miller, moving to the beat of a polka, as they gracefully maneuvered across the floor.
Not only was Cowell’s performance noticeable on the dance floor, so were his many cork and wood carvings found throughout the VFW building, as well.
Cowell, 90, raised in St Ansgar, is a veteran of the Korean War.
“I started dancing when I was 18,” he said. “Later, my wife (Margaret) and I danced till we were about 35, when the kids came along. We stayed at home with the family, until the kids left home. Then we went back to dancing.”
His wife passed away in June 2015.
“For his age and his cane, he does wonders once you get him going, then, you can’t slow him down,” Miller said.
Leo Meitner, who manages the Friday night dances said, “Lee is faithful. He never misses. I have compared him to a die-hard.”
To add to the atmosphere of the dances, Cowell has carved, from wine corks, many of the people who are regulars at the dances.
“He carved a bride and groom for our 50th Anniversary,” said Lorene Johnson, of Rock Falls. “He put a smile on my husband, Lowell’s, face, but he left my mouth open because I am always talking.”
“I have made figures of about everyone out here,” Cowell said, “That is how I made friends with them.”
Cowell’s cork carving started well after his retirement as an electrician.
“I started cork carving about 10 years ago. I am not a drinker, but I started it while I was working for Bel-Aire Winery, which was located northwest of St. Ansgar. I just picked up the hobby myself, it was something to do after retirement. My wife was a painter. She said, ‘You made the figures, so you have to paint them,'" Cowell said. “It takes about six corks and about two hours to make one person. You need a sharp knife and a little bit of patience. If you ruin one, you throw it away, and start on another one. I began making plain stuff at first like an animal, horse or reindeer.”
Each carved band display depicts each member of the band with their instruments, and Cowell even used black pipe cleaners to depict the microphones for his carvings.
The first cork carving Cowell made was of his wife’s favorite band - the Memory Brothers.
“Then Leo wanted me to make one of each of the regular bands that play here,” Cowell said. “I have carved five of the bands that are up on the stand.”
The Friday night groups often roll out the carvings from the back room so everyone can view them during the dances.