EFFINGHAM — Until mid-June, anyone driving past Don Thoele’s Effingham home on South Second Street may have seen a 70-foot-tall red oak tree towering over his yard.
Once it was trimmed, Thoele saw an opportunity. Thoele, a wood worker and builder, created 14 wooden birdhouses to attach to the trunk.
“What I’m doing that for is so the birds will have some shelter and have a place to hide,” Thoele said.
The trunk was left over at Thoele’s request from a tree trimming that took care of large limbs growing close to power lines. Thoele had a vision for the leftover tree parts.
He said, at first, he and his wife, Beverly, thought about bringing in a woodcarver to make art out of the tree trunk. To save on costs, the Thoeles opted to decorate the trunk with birdhouses instead.
Thoele had some wood left over from a building project that already had holes in them, so he utilized those pieces to make some of the tiny houses. He also used parts of the leftover limbs that also already had holes.
Sitting atop the trunk is the largest birdhouse on the tree, which the Thoeles jokingly call a bird apartment. It is 4-by-4 feet complete with wooden braces and a base, as well as a cedar-shingled roof.
The bird penthouse took Thoele just three days to build, and the rest of the birdhouses were built with the help of a young neighbor. In addition to the 14 birdhouses, the tree trunk is also home to nine bird feeders.
Thoele said his reasoning behind adding the birdhouses was simple: To bring more nature to his yard. A nature lover, Thoele even welcomes squirrels to the birdhouse haven.
Thoele’s neighbors have taken notice of the newly decorated tree trunk. Neighbor Kent Stortzum stopped by for a chat with the Thoeles early in the week.
Stortzum’s family built the home kitty-corner from the Thoeles in 1950. Stortzum said the lot the Thoeles now own was once an orchard owned by a gentleman Stortzum knew as Mr. Sprinkle.
Stortzum even remembers the very tree that Thoele attached the birdhouses to, saying the tree has to be at least 100 years old.
“It’s been here since we moved here. We built that house in 1950. It was a big tree then. Those trees had to be a lot smaller, but they looked big in my age,” Stortzum said.
Thoele and Stortzum share a love for trees and all things nature.
Thoele credits his love for the outdoors and the creatures and plants that live there to his childhood spent on his family farm in Teutopolis.
Thoele also enjoys any hands-on projects, like taxidermy — another passion of his that he’s practiced for 35 years. Thoele also makes and collects knives, wooden canes and anything from nature that catches his eye.
Thoele’s taxidermy career started when he was a young man interested in what an older gentleman in his hometown was doing. From there, Thoele said he bought books on taxidermy and taught himself the trade.
Beverly Thoele also has an eye for art and a knack for nature. She creates totems, birdbaths and stepping stones and has a flourishing garden and landscaping.
The two sometimes sell their works. But their art also decorates their home, Don’s workshop and Beverly’s shed.
Their Second Street home is the perfect location to fuel their creativity as the shaded neighborhood is surrounded by tall trees and vibrant flowers.
The Thoeles have arguably created their own slice of paradise right in the middle of Effingham.
“I love it,” Don Thoele said.