HASTINGS, Neb. — For Bill Fintel, the road to volunteering his time fashioning school bags for Orphan Grain Train was paved by Studebakers.

Fintel wasn’t exactly a natural-born tailor. But after retiring from his job as a traffic representative for Frisco Railroad — a job he held from 1953 to 1975 at various locations — the Deshler native needed something to do to stay active.

He had hoped a drive-thru restaurant purchased in 1975 with his wife, Sue, in Red Cloud would fill that void. But when he received a purchase offer for the business that was too good to pass up, he was once again a man without work.

That’s when he was approached by an old friend, Rex Paul, who sold him on restoring his stable of some 30 Studebacker cars for resale. Paul, a retired military man, owned a body shop and wanted Fintel to restore the interiors while he overhauled the coachwork.

Having dabbled in woodcarving as a hobby, Fintel was comfortable working with his hands, but had no previous experience with needle and thread. That was about to change.

“My mother had a sewing machine, but other than that, I didn’t know anything about them,” he said.

Purchasing a commercial sewing machine from Mode O’Day, a Hastings clothing company that was closing shop, he set out to teach himself the fine art of upholstery restoration.

With Sue, an experienced seamstress, in his corner, he began practicing on his newly purchased machine. The Studebaker venture unraveled shortly thereafter.

“Rex got so busy doing bodywork that he decided he wasn’t going to refurbish Studebakers anymore,” he said. “So here I am with a sewing machine learning how to sew . I had to do something.”

Forging ahead with his newly developed skill set, he and Sue moved to Deshler to help his widowed mother care for her two blind brothers.

It was there he launched his own upholstery repair business, tackling projects that included repairing pickup seats, car seats, davenports and chairs.

When he and Sue moved to Good Samaritan Village in 2013, he was once again out of a job. But not for long.

A member of Peace Lutheran Church in Hastings, Fintel was invited to lend his sewing skills to the Orphan Grain Train charitable network by Nadeen Debban, a fellow congregant who had been sewing quilts for the organization, the Hastings Tribune reported. The match and timing couldn’t have been any more perfect, he said.

“Boy, without this, I don’t know what I’d be doing,” he said. “They needed bags sewn and I knew how to sew and needed something to do. It’s been a godsend. If I had to just sit here and look at TV or fall asleep reading a book, I don’t think I would have reached 88.”

Since fall of 2013, Fintel has pieced together close to 4,000 school supply bags for the cause. The bags are packed separately from the supplies that will fill them and shipped to Third World countries that include Panama, Philippines, Mexico, Haiti and Latvia.

Initially made from denim material cut from donated jeans, his more recent bags are created from fabric cut from bolts that is easier to work with. Two $500 grants from Thrivent Financial supplement his material purchases annually. Additional material is donated through an arrangement with Good Samaritan Village, which commissions other types of bags from him for use with wheelchairs, walkers and catheters.

Following Orphan Grain Train guidelines of 18 inches deep and 14-15 inches wide, his bags include pockets, an addition he considers indispensable.

“You can’t have enough pockets, I don’t care who you are,” he said. “I figure every child should have a pocket.”

The bags make it possible for youngsters to attend school in their respective countries. Without them, carrying supplies to and from school would be impossible. Fintel imagines a smile accompanies each bag as it is presented to students eager to pursue an education at school.

“In these countries, if they do not have a container to put their things in they can’t go to school,” he said. “I feel like I have the skill and shouldn’t sit on it. It makes me happy to help these kids out, and I’ll keep making them just as long as the good Lord gives me the ability.”

Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com

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