In a storage room at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, a row of toy trucks await their young drivers. Tiny tables and chairs, painted in an array of colorful shapes, are ready for the hospital’s smaller patients. These pint-sized wooden creations — a gift from one of the Flathead’s most prolific toymakers — are destined for the second floor of the new Montana Children’s Medical Center, due to open next spring. And while these old-school gifts may not seem at home in a facility bedecked with the latest technology in design and pediatric care, they’ll play an important role for kids at the hospital by providing a fun and imaginative diversion from the seriousness of their conditions.
Children at the center for chemotherapy or treatment for other conditions will play at the tables, push wooden cars over imaginary roads or get lost in a game of mancala, all thanks to the generosity of a local man with a knack for building toys.
Kalispell resident Bob Redinger, 90, has been fashioning a prodigious amounts of trucks, games and other wooden wares to the Toys for Tots program — a Marines-run effort that distributes Christmas gifts to kids who can’t afford them — for nearly two decades. When he saw in the Daily Inter Lake that Kalispell Regional was building a new pediatric unit, he figured they could use a few toys, too.
“I thought, ‘They could use something to entertain those little kids.’ So I offered and asked them if they could use a table and chair sets and a couple of rocking chairs,” he said. “And they came back and said that they’d be happy to have whatever I’d like to make for them.” Redinger worked with his daughter, Joan Driscoll, a nurse practitioner at the hospital, to facilitate the donation, and enlisted another daughter, Patricia, to paint the furniture.
The result is a collection of toys and furniture Redinger called both “attractive,” thanks to Patricia’s painting, and fun. “Hopefully they will help those little kids who are in that pediatric unit so that they have something to do when they’re going through their misery,” he said.
The donation and support from the community is much appreciated at the hospital. Going through serious medical treatment at such a young age can be exhausting and traumatizing, so “having some form of entertainment for the kids during that is very important,” said Dr. Gavin Falk, a pediatric surgeon at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
For Redinger, the gifts were a natural extension of his craft and family involvement in the Flathead’s health care. He and his wife of nearly 69 years, Dorothy, head a “medical family,” he says. Four of his eight children have careers in medicine, a granddaughter is a registered nurse and another is studying nursing at FVCC.
Redinger retired to the Flathead in the 1980s after a long career with ARCO — formerly the Anaconda Mining Company — but didn’t begin working on toys until he moved to a workshop-ready house in Kalispell in 2001. Despite his relatively late start in the woodworking game, Redinger quickly picked up the trade.
If there’s a theme to Redinger’s volunteer career, it’s generosity through reaching out. He first began making toy parts after connecting with another Toys for Tots toymaker from West Valley who he read about in the Daily Inter Lake.
“I started out by cutting out parts for him for a year or two and finally he said, ‘Why don’t you just start making the toys?’” remembered Redinger. “So he gave me the patterns, which I made copies of, and I started making rocking chairs, rocking horses, cribs, cradles and whatever else.”
When the original toymaker moved on, Redinger sought out the Flathead County Agency on Aging to connect with other area woodworkers. That’s how he met Ed Toren, of Columbia Falls. Together, the two have devoted the better part of their retirement to making toys for kids in need.
Their contributions to Toys for Tots are legendary. Last year, the two produced over 800 toys between them — over 10 percent of all the toys distributed by the program. For many years, Redinger would spend at least two to four hours a day in his basement workshop turning donated wood into toys.
Now, nearing 91, he admits he’s slowing down — but only to a point. “I know that if I don’t go down there and make sawdust, I’ll just sit some place. And if I just sit some place, I won’t last,” he said.
It’s a generous persistance that will carry forward through the hospital’s young patients. The toys are the “kind of thing that parents will pass down to their kids down the road,” said Dr. Falk. “To be able to give one of these toys to a sick kid is going to be exciting.”
For more information on Kalispell Regional’s pediatric services or to view their “wish list” for child-care items, visit https://www.krh.org/foundation/what-we-support/pediatric-services