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50 states and then some: Veterans’ workmanship has been sent to every state in the U.S.

Mike Kriel pushes the 50th flag pin into the state of Vermont, proving that the Veterans Home woodshop has sent products to every state in the country. Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx

For the past seven or eight years, Mike Kriel has been pushing pins into a map on his office wall. Kriel is the woodshop coordinator at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Hastings. The woodshop produces hand-made woodwork made by veterans who live at the home, and every time they ship a finished product to a new state, Kriel marks it on his map with a flag pin.

Kriel said he tracks where the items are shipped “mostly so I could tell people where most of our customers live.”

Last week, Kriel pushed the 50th pin into his U.S. map. Now he and the five veterans who work there can finally say that their craftsmanship can be found in every U.S. state.

The holdout was Vermont, and it held out for about six months after the 49th state to be marked, which was Arkansas.

“We had everybody but them,” Kriel said.

It was thanks to a bit of communication from Volunteer Services Coordinator Dan Jordan that the woodworkers were finally able to complete the map. Jordan had contacted another veterans facility in Vermont and mentioned that Hastings produced and sold hand-made wooden flag cases and furniture, Kriel said. Finally, the facility ordered a flag case and the last pin could be placed.

The Veterans Home woodshop mostly produces flag cases. The cases are the big seller, making up about 99 percent of the shop’s sales, Kriel said. On average, they produce about 40 to 50 cases each month. But the woodworkers there have also made other items, including custom furniture. They were recently hired to produce drum frames for a man who sells hand-made ethnic drums all over the world.

The shop is self-sustaining as well, and the veterans who work there are paid out of their sales.

Now that the U.S. map is full, Kriel’s goal is just to sell more flag cases so he can hire more veterans in the woodshop. Besides providing them with an income, the woodshop is a therapeutic working environment that allows the veterans to learn and improve their woodworking skills.

To continue tracking new places where the veterans’ handiwork ends up, Kriel is going to need a bigger map. Some items have already been shipped to other countries, including Great Britain, Mexico, Canada, Germany and Afghanistan. To contact the woodshop, call Kriel at 651-438-8559.