An Eternal Legacy | North Ohio University
As we mark the UN’s 150th anniversary, we meet retired faculty and staff to see how they live the lifelong learning mantra. Some are going in surprisingly creative and interesting directions. This is the third story in the series.
Visit the gift shop located inside the Ohio Northern University Inn and you’ll find beautifully crafted wooden clocks, cutting boards, and keepsake boxes fit to become heirlooms. They are the work of the former professor of electrical engineering who became a master craftsman Les Théde. After retiring from the UN in 2007, he traded the hustle and bustle of academia for the loneliness of the woodworking shop, starting a business called EverLasting Furniture. “I wanted to do something different,” he explains, “and carpentry became my sanctuary. “
Thede taught at the UN for 23 years and served as the director of the electrical engineering department for three of those years. He has mentored hundreds of engineering students who have pursued impressive careers in the industry.
Growing up on a farm in Iowa, he witnessed the practical application of engineering in everyday life. The practicality of the Midwest has come to define its approach to teaching and learning. “I enjoyed the chance to teach the kids skills they could use,” he says. “I particularly liked this ‘light bulb’ moment when a concept clicked with a student. “
Specializing in analog electronics and digital signal processing, he was known for his numerous lecture notes that his students found useful as practical and practical guides. He transformed these notes into two published textbooks which are still referenced today. During his teaching career, Thede occasionally became interested in woodworking. As he prepared for retirement, he decided it would be the perfect hobby to pursue more intentionally. Keeping busy, he says, is the key to a happy retirement. “When I announced my retirement, several colleagues told me: ‘I don’t know what I would do when I retire’,” he recalls. “And I said to them, ‘Well, you better start thinking about it!’ “
Thede set up a carpentry workshop in his backyard and he could feel the stress melt away as he worked with his tools and machines. “It came out of my body through my feet,” he said. During his wife’s battle with cancer and her death in 2018, the store became a haven for him in the midst of mourning. As he started making larger furniture and selling it at local craft fairs, he quickly settled into a different business model. He created a line of smaller products, including clocks, notepads, cutting boards, and memory boxes, which could be sold online and easily shipped. Her website links to her Etsy store where all transactions are processed.
Using only hardwoods – cherry, walnut, oak and maple – he infuses creativity and craftsmanship into every design. The name of his company, EverLasting Furniture, reflects his commitment to making quality products that will be treasured for years to come. Customers across the country are leaving rave reviews on her Etsy store, with comments such as “great clock,” “absolutely gorgeous craftsmanship,” and “is amazing!” A few of his more unusual products include hat racks and picture displays that he recently made from broken and scarred wooden baseball bats. He also likes to build cajons, which are wooden drums with a snare that you sit on to play. He sold hundreds of them to schools, churches and individuals. Why cajons? Because the gentle-mannered, practical engineer has an unexpected side to his personality: a rock ‘n’ roll drummer.
Former students of Thede might be surprised to learn that Thede was part of a 1960s rock band called the XLs. He and a few high school friends formed the group and they stayed together until college. As the band began to play tame big band style music, they switched to ’60s rock’ n ‘roll when the Beatles, with their long hair and unique sound, took the world by storm. The XL’s became a sensation in Iowa and was fortunate enough to be the opening act for some of the major music groups of the era when they toured the state, most notably The Lovin ‘Spoonful, The Mamas & the Papas, Paul Revere & The Adventurers and Hermits of Herman. The group also won a Vox music competition and traveled to Hollywood for an appearance in the 1968 film “A Time to Sing” starring Hank Williams Jr. and Shelley Fabares.
After retiring, Thede and her band mates hosted an XL reunion and performed together at various venues in Iowa during the summers. In 2009, the XLs received the honor of being inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.
Thede also played drums for a local Northwest Ohio band called Kwik Fire. “We played animal clubs,” he laughed. “Moose, moose, eagles.” As his playing career ended in 2016, Thede is not averse to picking up his drumsticks again if the need arises.
Meanwhile, he doesn’t skip a beat with his carpentry business. All those years he spent developing technical manuals for his UN students prompted him to develop detailed design plans for his clocks and other specialty products. “Maybe one day, when I’m long gone, a grandchild or great-grandchild will find my notes and decide to build these same pieces,” he says. “It would make me really happy in Heaven.”