By Gretchen Wing
Special to the Weekly
Laura Adams loves working with leaded glass. Also weaving. Also gardening. But wood, she says, “is the most versatile. You can make stuff happen more with wood.”
Although best known on Lopez as a cabinet-maker, Laura got her real start with wood on a much larger scale: the house she and husband Steve began building when they moved to Lopez in 1980. “That was a big learning curve,” she says. With no electric power—and a toddler underfoot—Laura and Steve cut everything with hand saws and a chainsaw. “Sometimes we borrowed Greg Blomberg’s generator for a few days, but then somebody else would borrow it,” Laura remembers. “There were a lot of us doing the same thing…so we got to pick a lot of brains.” Steve had designed their house, but he started teaching shop at the school, so Laura finished the project herself. Her confidence grew naturally: “I figured out early on…OK, you messed up… you can always get another piece of plywood!”
That confidence may owe itself in part to parents who made things. Growing up the youngest of five in North Hollywood, Laura got to mess around in her dad’s shop and wore clothes sewed by her “very skilled” mom. When Laura and Steve became a couple (having grown up, unbeknownst, five miles from each other), they immediately began a life of avid gardening and working with their hands.
But Southern California, with its heat and smog, did not lend itself to their leanings. So the Adams looked to northern California and southern Oregon for property. Although they knew the San Juans – Laura’s brother-in-law ran Camp Orkila — it took his suggestion for them to consider Lopez as a potential home. They met with a realtor; they met a few folks. It’s still a mystery to her, how strong an impression the community made in such a brief time. Yet: “Somehow it clicked: you can have cool property and cool people as well.”
Back in northern California, where they had been most actively property-hunting, Laura and Steve immediately felt something indefinable missing and decided on the spot to drive the thirteen hours back to Lopez. “We said, ‘OK, when we get there, we’re not making an offer, we’re just going to look at it and go home…” Of course, they made an offer. “And we’ve never been disappointed,” Laura adds.
On Lopez, community was everything. Everyone they knew was building houses and raising kids together.
“We traded kids all over,” she says. “Thanksgiving, Christmas dinners … We were each other’s families.”
Building their house while raising kids took at least 10 years, but during that time Laura was also unconsciously building a place for herself in the community, and a new career. When their daughters started preschool, Laura became Treasurer. And when Laura had built her own cabinetry and furniture, friends began asking her to do the same for them. Steve had taken cabinetry classes, but Laura had to learn from him and then figure it out for herself, mentored by a friend, Jeff Hewins, who critiqued her work.
The small scale of Lopez made it possible for Laura to expand her clientele simply by word of mouth. Soon she moved from “spiffing up” kitchens to doing interiors of whole houses, especially with contractors working with designer Scott Hatch, whose Craftsman-style she enjoys. “I guess I’m drawn to simple lines,” Laura says—and the simplicity of woodworking also went well with raising kids. “They always knew where to find me after school, out in the shop.”
Retired now from cabinetry, Laura has found her new passion in caring for her grandchildren and a new Treasurer role, at Lopez Fit. With animation, Laura explains that some people may not know Lopez Fit operates with half its labor provided by volunteers. Because of an arrangement with the Family Resource Center, Lopez Fit is able to accept tax-deductible donations to its Scholarship Fund, allowing lower-income community members to enjoy all the benefits of the gym. According to Laura, a significant portion of gym users rely on those scholarships—something she is very proud of.
And then there are the Silver Sneakers classes for older adults. Wednesdays and Fridays, 10-15 people per class, “you can go in there and see Heidi Strong teaching, hear the music … They’re all really into it.” Laura’s own favorite is circuit-training; she and fellow-sufferers of osteoporosis have seen improvement in their bone-density numbers since starting those classes. “I only wish I’d started sooner,” she says.
Because Lopez Fit keeps Lopezians healthy and strong — all Lopezians, regardless of income level—it keeps them on the island, which keeps the community itself healthy and strong. “We feel really good about that,” Laura says. And no wonder. Just like with wood, you can make stuff happen with fitness.