With a flat corner of sandpaper in her hand, Betty Eves, 94, smooths the jagged edges of a piece of wood — it’s a part of her newest handcrafted puzzle.
Over the sound of an electric saw cutting through oak, Eves explains the puzzle is an addition to her collection of handmade wooden keepsakes. Around her, volunteers at Friends of the Carpenter shuffle about. Some of them are talking over the noise, while others, like Eves, transform plain wood into art.
“I’ve been here for nine years every day,” said Eves, affectionately known as Miss Betty. “All the volunteers here want to help everybody. We work together.”
Born and raised in Ridgefield, Eves has supported herself financially since she was 12. Through mission trips with GracePoint Christian Church, she’s traveled the world to places including Mexico, Haiti and Austria. But no matter where life has taken Eves, her heart draws her back.
“Even when I’ve gone away, I’ve always come back, because this is home,” she said.
Journey through life
Eves was 12 when she first left her home in Ridgefield and moved to Cottage Grove, Ore. She worked small side jobs throughout her teenage years to support herself and her grandmother. Eves said the woman she worked for as a girl, Judy, is like a sister to her to this day.
“I started out in life so much different than most people out there,” she said. “I left home when I was 12. I was never homeless, but I wasn’t in my original home. I was by myself.”
At 18 she married Jimmy Eves. They started a life together in Cottage Grove, and Eves stayed in touch with her siblings throughout her time in Oregon. As the years went on, Eves navigated life with her now-late husband and the knowledge from her experiences as a young girl. Eves said the independence she had from a young age is part of what shaped her into the woman she is today.
“I think I’ve always been who I am now,” said Eves. “I’ve always helped people in need.”
From 1977 to 1991, Eves worked at the Federal Reserve Bank in Portland, making her the first female Federal Reserve guard in the United States. She retired shortly after her tenure at the bank and began volunteering with GracePoint Christian Church.
As Eves became more involved with the church, she was reintroduced to the Vancouver community. In 2002, she went on her first mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico, where they built houses for the children’s ministry. Over the next 15 years, each summer she traveled to a new part of the world, including Johannesburg, South Africa, Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Vienna, Austria.
“It was a really great experience,” said Eves. “It was always the same group of us. We worked for love and for the Lord.”
Coming back home
Although traveling was a big part of her life, Eves said something pulled her back home.
In 2009, she moved back to Vancouver and has lived here since. It was through her Bible study group at GracePoint that Eves discovered Friends of the Carpenter.
“One morning, someone said they need help down at Friends of the Carpenter,” Eves said. “The minute I got through with Bible study, I came down here to help them do whatever they need.”
Friends of the Carpenter is a faith-based nonprofit organization founded in 1998. Its mission focuses on woodwork and volunteering to help underserved members of Clark County, including those who are low-income, houseless and veterans.
“Working with Betty is so unique,” said Executive Director Tod Thayer. “She is like a grandmother and mother to so many of us.”
New volunteers can complete an introductory woodworking course where they learn the basics of carpentry. Eves picked up sanding as soon as she joined. Now, for five hours every weekday, she takes that little piece of sandpaper and turns a rough chunk of wood into something special. Her puzzles are her speciality, but one room at Friends houses a collection of around 200 wooden decorations, ornaments, lamps and small tables. Over the years, Eves said she has sanded many of those pieces herself.
“They brought me over here and sat me down at the end of that table, and gave me some sandpaper and wood. All that stuff in that room in there, I’ve sanded most of them,” she explained, gesturing to the collection. “I didn’t just do it one day, I was here every day that I was in Vancouver.”
The potential community is why Eves began going, but the family she found over the years is why she never left. Eves said going on mission trips and helping those in need feels just as important as what she does at Friends of the Carpenter. Eves recently recovered from heart surgery, and as soon as she felt better, Friends was the first place she went.
“I have filled my life doing what I’ve always done,” Eves said. “Helping others.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.