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Sycamore resident makes woodcrafts in retirement

Sycamore man makes, sells wooden items

SYCAMORE – Don Lampkins has noticed many birdhouses go missing from his daughter’s lawn over the years.

Lampkins sells birdhouses, bean bag toss games, Adirondack chairs and other wood crafts from his daughter’s lawn on the corner of Center Cross Street and DeKalb Avenue in Sycamore. He has had some birdhouses stolen, but most are purchased.

“Sometimes I lose stuff, but I don’t worry about it,” he said. “The good outweighs the bad.”

Lampkins, who lives a few houses down on Center Cross Street, has been selling his wood creations on that property since 1996, when he retired from his public works street department job with the city of Sycamore. Prior to that job, he was a contractor and built houses.

Before he retired, he said he just “puttered around” with making creations. He works out of a workshop on the same property.

“Now I just do it to offset my income,” he said. “It’s coffee money.”

He’s found some of that coffee money in odd places, whether it’s stored under a rock or in the mailbox. 

“One day I found a check and a birdhouse missing,” Lampkins said. “A note had a telephone number and address and said if it wasn’t enough money that she would give the difference. She said she couldn’t live without [the birdhouse]. Her address said she lived in Dallas, Texas.”

Lampkins said he has birdhouses in 17 different states and one overseas. They run about $20.

“There was a lady going to school at Northern [Illinois University] and she wanted to take something home to her dad,” Lampkins said. “They were clamping down on security then, so I told her to drop a card when she got it back. She carried it on the airplane and she said she got it back.”

In the past, he created Disney character windmills, but he said the market just isn’t interested anymore. He said bean bag toss games are the most popular, especially during the summer. Many are team-specific, be it Chicago Bears or Green Bay Packers, but he is also open to personalizing his work for the customer.

“I have a lot of fun doing it,” Lampkins said. “It keeps you busy. It’s what you gotta do when you get older. If you don’t stay busy, you don’t stay around too long.”

Gene Listy, who has lived near Lampkin for a few decades, said the two worked together in public works for Sycamore. Lampkins has also put together some creations for Listy’s daughter.

“He’s been a good neighbor,” Listy said. “My daughter wanted a small birdhouse before, so he made her one. He’s also made her cabinets for her dolls and a cabinet for a John Wayne statue of hers.”

In the past, when Lampkins was younger and able to carry larger pieces of wood, he created life-size nativity scenes. He donated some to local churches.

“I don’t charge much,” he said. “And if it ain’t fun, I don’t make it.”

Today, Lampkins is looking forward to celebrating his 80th birthday on July 4. He also teaches his craft to some of his 15 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

“Sycamore has been good to me,” Lampkins said.

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