By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
ADA — As the saying goes, don’t take any wooden nickels. That is, of course, unless they come from Ada Mayor Dave Retterer.
Over the past year, Retterer has been busy turning pieces of basswood into half-dollar-size tokens engraved with everything from Christmas trees to replicas of the American flag. He hands the tiny pieces of art out at parades, picnics and festivals.
“I dearly love doing all this stuff,” he said.
The 66-year-old mayor said he’s always been interested in woodworking. He has a large, well-equipped workshop at his home, while his wife, Deb, has her own craft space where she quilts and embroiders.
“I’m pretty much out here every day, all day,” he said.
Retterer moved to Ada to teach mathematics and computer science at Ohio Northern University. When he retired in 2016 after 38 years, he bought a laser engraver as a gift to himself.
His grandfather, father and uncle were all woodworkers, and Retterer said, “I got the bug in my blood somehow.”
He started making the wooden tokens a year ago, in part to learn how to use his new engraver. One of the first pieces he made featured Tavern 101, a restaurant he likes to frequent on Ada’s Main Street.
“Later somebody opened up his billfold to pay his bill, and in there was that token,” Retterer recalled. “So I said, ‘Gosh, you’ve got that token still.’ He said, ‘Well, yeah’. Then people sitting around the table said, ‘I’ve got mine’ and ‘I’ve got mine’. So I thought, ‘Well, people like these things.'”
Tokens followed for New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Presidents Day and Halloween.
For Columbus Day, Retterer made replicas of Christopher Columbus’ three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. And in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he fashioned a token with a quote from a speech King gave when he was at Ohio Northern on Jan. 11, 1968, just a few months before his assassination.
Nearly all of the tokens are made of basswood. Retterer buys 10-foot-long planks and cuts them down. He finds or creates an image on the computer, then sends it to the engraver which burns the wood.
“Essentially it’s woodburning,” he explained. “But instead of using a woodburner, it uses a laser, and it’s got a really fine point on it.”
The engraver can burn in two different ways — by creating an image on wood or cutting out letters or words.
“I do a lot of samples before I print them,” he said.
Retterer said he enjoys the creative process.
“I really don’t have much artistic ability in terms of drawing, although I’m pretty decent with a computer. And I have a good eye for things, I think, so I can look at something and decide yeah, that looks right or it doesn’t,” he said. “So this is probably the only way I’m ever going to be an artist.”
Special village events have also been commemorated on Retterer’s tokens. He replicated a poster that was created for the second annual Made in Ada Wilson Football Festival last February, and the 105th Farmers Merchants Picnic.
Retterer also learned how to add color to tokens. For example, an American flag he created for Independence Day is highlighed with red and blue.
“I’m so proud of this,” he said. “This is really exciting.” Retterer first painted the flag blue using spray enamel. After it dried, he added red.
“Where I wanted it blue, I burned the red cover off, and where I wanted white, I burned both of them off, and that just left the red,” he said. “It was a challenge to get it right.”
Retterer also makes wooden signs, business cards, puzzles and flag cases.
“I absolutely love being frustrated and trying to figure things out, and this can certainly frustrate you at times,” he laughed.
He and his wife plan to share a booth with their children at Ada’s Harvest and Herb Festival this fall. Daughter Melissa makes purses, and son Brian makes pottery.