Former school administrator now works with his hands, making lamps, torches out of rocks


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MOUNT GRETNA, Pennsylvania — Like many other retirees, Don Kensinger needed a hobby —something to pass the time.

So the former school administrator turned to rocks.

An avid hiker, Kensinger would often look for rocks alongside roads and trails and in streams when he and his wife, Vicki, would go on trips. Eventually, he started making lamps out of them.

"I've always enjoyed rocks," he said. "When we would travel to Vermont, I always admired the stone walls that were built there and the techniques they used. That always interested me."

Kensinger, who lives in Mount Gretna, makes two kinds of lamps: garden torches and cairn lamps.

The garden torches are made with flat pieces of rock or pieces of countertop. Kensinger drills three holes in them, then attaches glass ash-trays to the bottom that serve as reservoirs for lamp oil. Wicks come up from the reservoirs through the holes and when lit give the appearance of a rock with three small flames coming from the top.

Cairn lamps are made using smooth river stones stacked on top of each other. Kensinger then attaches a hand-made lampshade to the top.

Cairn is a term for a stack of rocks that people form for various reasons, such as to mark a path or the location of a significant event.

Kensinger also makes inuksuks, which he describes as "rocks in human form." Like cairns, inuksuks are stone markers used in the Arctic region for marking purposes.

There's a real significance to working with rock," Kensinger explained. "It's, in a sense, almost a sacred experience because there's so much significance to working with rock, whether it's just realizing the thousands and thousands of years that river rock has tumbled in a stream to get to the point where all the rough edges are off and it's nice and smooth, to finding a rock at a place, or just looking at the beauty of rock, with different colors and idiosyncracies that rocks have."

A native of Martinsburg, Blair County, Kensinger has a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Juniata College. He started his career as an elementary-school teacher before moving on to guidance counselor and then school psychologist.

He retired in 2011 as the director of pupil services in the Lower Dauphin School District.

"I thoroughly enjoyed what I did for 37 years," he said. "It was a difficult transition initially for me, because I missed working with families and especially those families who had children that posed challenges, both for them and for the district. There was a real satisfaction of working together as a team to come up with an educational placement program that worked for them."

Kensinger began working with rocks around 2004. He described his school work as "head work" and said working with his hands is entirely different.

"I've always admired people who can do things with their hands," he said. "Just working with rocks and making something nice out of something that you kind of take for granted. They're along the side of roads, along a path. We use rocks to make asphalt and so on. It can also be used in a very artistic form."

Kensinger has a website for his products,, and he attends around 15 to 20 craft shows a year. The shows are mostly in Pennsylvania, but he also travels to Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. He is considering applying to the Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Show next summer.

While he does make some money from his crafts, he doesn't do it to get rich.

"The rock business is my bread and butter, not for money, but for what am I going to do with my day?" he said. "Am I going to drill rocks, collect rocks, sell rocks? I like the little extra money, but it's really satisfying to do."

Information from: Lebanon Daily News,

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