RIVER VALE, N.J. -- At 96 years young, Tom Kneeshaw of River Vale has used the challenges of life -- the kind that blindside us, that test our mettle in unexpected ways -- to bring joy to others.
With the help of his daughters, Kneeshaw recently built the "Real Good Toys Alison Jr." dollhouse kit for a Mental Health Association of Westchester fundraiser.
Kneeshaw has built several dollhouses -- and continues to produce more for friends and charities. Two he made from scratch. Four he built for his granddaughters and great-granddaughters. There are also five half-inch scale and 10 one-inch scale houses constructed from kits.
Kneeshaw served in World War II, and, locally, at the River Vale Volunteer Fire Corps. He was also an organist at several local parishes. He and his late wife, Virginia, raised four children.
After becoming ill last year, Kneesaw had to have his leg amputated. Then came a setback from which doctors thought he'd never recover. They even put him on home hospice.
“Time was passing and he was holding on," daughter Sharrie recalled.
Flipping through a Real Good Toys catalog, she and her father found inspiration. "His thought was: ‘I’m here and able to use my talents, let’s do something good'."
Sharrie and her sister started small, hoping not to challenge him too much. They were sure the project would take at least a month "given the complexity and his limitations," she said. "He had it done in eight days!”
With a renewed sense of purpose, the Kneeshaws took on more kits. While he attended to the finer details of assembly and finishing, they retrieved tools from his basement workshop, painted the houses and converted his kitchen into a studio.
Kneeshaw has been a talented woodcrafter and carpenter for decades. He created his first piece, a chest, when he first married more than 50 years ago. Many followed – from a hutch to doll display cases, toy chests, trains and cars, many of which adorn his home.
Sharrie proudly displayed the “The Houses That Bamp Built” photo collection featuring his legacy of dollhouses.
That Kneeshaw has surmounted his medical challenges amazes his medical team.
“I say he is a cat with nine lives," Sharrie said. "He says it is a miracle.”
What's kept him going?
“Service," he said. "Service to God first, family, and then country.”
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