By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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OPF INNOVATIONS, THE Sequim manufacturer of fly-fishing tools for amputees, stroke patients and other people with limited mobility, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The nonprofit organization also is involved with Project Healing Waters (www.ProjectHealing
Waters.org), a national effort to offer wounded war veterans access to fishing trips, tools and education, and with members of two local fishing groups: the Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishers at www.OPFF.org and the Greywolf Fly Fishing Club at http://greywolf-ffc.com.
Peninsula Daily News
For these men — company president Dean Childs and vice presidents Nick Elliott and Scott Adler — the venture is no lark. It is a nonprofit endeavor based on something that has brought peace to them and to many others: fly fishing.
So despite the fact that the three are all older than 70 and all “retired” from careers in manufacturing and management, they’re embarking on this startup, a company that will stay afloat on contributions and grants.
The bottom line is clear as an alpine lake: Getting wounded people fishing again.
The company’s newest product, the Casting Partner, is the latest in a series of devices designed to help wounded war veterans.
Childs, who has turned his garage in Dungeness into a compact manufacturing center, has over the past five years facilitated the building of some 1,200 fly-tying tool sets for veterans. Through Project Healing Waters, a national nonprofit organization, Childs and crew have provided the kits free to vets coping with post-traumatic stress, the loss of limbs and other wounds.
Members of two local clubs, the Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishers and the Greywolf Fly Fishing Club, also gathered in Childs’ garage shop to build a 15-foot cedar Rangeley lake boat. The vessel was donated to Project Healing Waters. And on several occasions over the past few years, the crew here has taken veterans fishing on lakes and ponds on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Then came the Evergreen Hand, another device created for wounded warriors. Invented by retired Air Force Col. Jesse Scott, the tool makes it possible for a one-handed person to tie flies for fishing.
Now, this may not save the world, Elliott acknowledged, but it does replace a disability with an ability. That, he and his compatriots agree, can make a big difference to those who have come home forever changed.
Iraq veteran Jessie Oliff of Fort Jones, Calif., was a fly-fisher from girlhood, all the way till she joined the Army. A sergeant, she was sent to Iraq, where she was wounded in 2005.
As a result of her injury, Oliff suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side. Since she was left-handed, she had to relearn everyday activities with her right hand.
It was a long road back. With the help of the Evergreen Hand and now the Casting Partner, Oliff fishes the Trinity, Klamath and upper Sacramento rivers.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the Evergreen Hand tool,” she wrote in a letter to Childs.
“I never thought I would be able to tie flies again.”
Oliff encourages others with limited hand and arm mobility to try the Casting Partner too.
“It lets you do things you never thought you could,” she said in an interview last week.
The Casting Partner is a lightweight device with a belt that encircles the fisherman or -woman’s waist, to act much like an arm steadying the fishing rod. OPF Innovations developed a prototype of it and then sent it out to Oliff and nine others across the country.
Childs said these testers already are providing his crew with feedback that will help improve the product.
“I cannot remember when I didn’t fish,” said Elliott. “It’s kind of a Zen, reflective experience.”
“I second that,” said Adler.
He only began fly-fishing about five years ago, after friends in Sequim invited him out. He spends as much time watching the eagles and ospreys as he does actually fishing.
On a lake or river, you’re contemplating the flow of life. The line arcing through the air, a ripple across the surface: these are balm on the mind.
Childs emphasizes that women and men find equal joy in this pastime.
Darlene Whitney, a fly-fisher and friend of Childs’, is “a goddess,” he quipped.
“She outfishes us; makes us all look really bad.”
Back at his garage, the founders of OPF Innovations are in the process of applying for federal 501(c)3 nonprofit status.
With the partial shutdown of the federal government, “it will probably be a while before we get it,” Childs said.
“But that won’t stop us from moving forward.”
To make the operation fly, the men are dipping into a kind of brain trust: their own practical knowledge accumulated over decades in private industry.
“We’re diversified in our backgrounds,” said Adler, who is retired from a career developing products for large construction projects such as bridges.
Elliott retired seven years ago from 3M in Minnesota, where he was involved in marketing.
And Childs devoted 42 years to Bourns Inc., an electronics company in Ogden, Utah; he became general manager before retiring in 2001.
During his last seven years with Bourns, Childs also built Wasatch Custom Angling Products, a maker of fly-tying tools named after the Wasatch range of the Rocky Mountains. He sold it in 2009 but continues to work with the company, which is now based in Albany, Ore.
As Childs leaned toward retirement, he had every intention of continuing to work with his hands. When he and his wife Diana moved to Sequim in 2006, they looked for a garage with a house attached, and found it not far from the Dungeness Valley Creamery.
Connecting with the fly-fishing clubs and Project Healing Waters has been a powerful source of inspiration for Childs, Elliott and Adler. They want to see the Evergreen Hand and the Casting Partner made available to any man or woman who needs them, regardless of their ability to buy one.
“We’re not selling anything,” Elliott added for emphasis.
“It’s our intent to give our products away.”
Childs is all too aware of the suffering experienced by war veterans. He’s worked for years now with service members who came back from Iraq or Afghanistan with deep wounds.
His own father fought in World War II and returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder, though it wasn’t called that back in the 1950s.
“The suicide rate is high,” Childs said, among those who have lost limbs, mobility and peace of mind.
Providing the tools for vets to tie flies and catch fish gives them skills — skills he believes will help vets feel they can learn and do other things.
“I want to save lives. I know we can do it,” Childs said.
The men are realistic, though, about their own mortality. Childs is 76; Adler and Elliott are both 71.
“That’s one of our challenges,” said Childs.
Who will take over OPF Innovations is an open question.
“We really don’t want to see this come to an end,” said Adler.