Three Toledoans fulfill passions with their hobbies
Life sometimes makes it difficult to find time for yourself. With family, work and other responsibilities, a hobby often doesn’t seem possible. Retirement is the perfect time to explore activities that you might have only thought about fleetingly in years past. If you are looking to slow down and do something that brings you joy, there are many options. Here are three hobbies that may spark your interest to start now.
Train Hobbyist & Photographer
A lifelong Toledoan, Gary Cornell has always been fascinated by trains. He remembers building his first model train set at age 10.
“It’s been a lifelong source of enjoyment,” Cornell says. “Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been fascinated with railroads. When I’d come home from school, my buddies and I would get off the bus, grab our bikes, and immediately ride up [near the tracks] to watching the trains go by until dinnertime.”
Cornell has gone through about several model railroad layouts since childhood, though he retains many of the original pieces from his first set. He doesn’t get too wrapped up in the technical side of building them as some people do. “I think that’s because of what I do for a living as an electronic technician,” Cornell says. “That’s what I do all day. My favorite part of the railroad is building the models and the scenes.”
Cornell’s basement has an elaborate setup that he enjoys maintaining and running, but that’s not where his fascination with trains ends. For 10 years now he has been photographing trains, traveling all over the country to find interesting shots with backdrops of bridges, old buildings, and other settings that work well for the rustic aesthetic of his final pieces.
“It’s really just a hobby, but I started producing [the photos] and taking them to train swap meets to sell them there,” he says. “Then I buy more trains for my basement. I always say it’s the hobby that supports my hobby.”
Cornell does five or six shows a year, and he has made the photography only part of the process. “I wanted the wives at the shows to allow their husbands to hang them somewhere other than the basement,” he jokes, explaining that he started changing the graphics to bring out morepastels so that the photos look more like paintings. He also transposes the images onto rustic wood using connected aged panels aged for a vintage look that pairs well with the locomotive subjects.
“I’ve always felt that I needed some outlet for my creative side,” Cornell says. “That’s why what I do keeps evolving.”
To learn more about Gary Cornell’s photography, search Momentstrackside Photoart on Facebook, and look for his booth at the 12th Annual Train Day on Saturday, May 4 at the Toledo Amtrak Station, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza, 415 Emerald Ave. Free
Toledoan Doug Helminiak works as a heavy equipment operator at Rudolph Libbe and owns rental properties, but he fills the rest of his time with a daring hobby: paragliding. For those who’ve never heard of it, paragliding involves wearing a particular parachute, sometimes with a motor strapped to your back (it’s often referred to as paramotoring). Run for a few steps, catch the wind, and lift off into the air. Helminiak finds it to be both thrilling and, conversely, relaxing.
“I always had this dare-devilness to me, I guess,” he says, adding that he remembers jumping off of a garage into a pool, as well as performing other risky stunts when he was a teenager. Never one to be scared of heights, he and a friend once made their own flying device out of lightweight materials and tried to get it airborne, “kind of like the Wright Brothers,” Helminiak says.
As a young man he did a lot of hang gliding, with some near misses that could have gone very badly, though luckily he wasn’t hurt. Now, decades removed from becoming fixed on flight, Helminiak has embraced paragliding, which, you might be surprised to learn, is much safer than hang gliding.
“You have so much control up there, even if you have a fear of heights,” the 57-year-old said. “My son has a fear of heights, actually; if he gets up on a ladder, he gets a little shaky, but he has no fear of this. He’s been up above the clouds.”
Helminiak’s sons convinced him to try paragliding. “My son Brian asked me if I wanted to do it, and at first I thought, ‘No, at my age, I’m kind of past that point in my life.’ I’ve experienced the thrill of free flight, and I was pretty well content.”
He soon found himself training with his sons, an experience readers can see footage of on the family’s YouTube channel, ToledoFlyBoys.
“For the first few days, they teach a lot of ground school about weather and wind,” Helminiak says. “You have a harness and learn to run with it, controlling it in the air while still on the ground.” He points out that training isn’t required (as an ultralight class flying device, there’s no licensing required), but he highly recommends it to limit easily avoidable accidents, most of which occur while on the ground.
Now Doug has been flying with his sons and his brother since last summer. As the ToledoFlyBoys YouTube footage attests, it has become a real passion.
“It just gives you an exhilarating feeling and makes you feel alive,” says Helminiak. “If I haven’t flown for a while, just getting up in the air and flying removes [all my cares]. It takes 15 years off my life, I swear.”
A sweet creative outlet
Born and raised in South Toledo, Tom Widmer now lives in the Holland/Sylvania area, where he has taken up baking in a big way. He bakes large batches of goodies for his friends, makes decadent cakes for special occasions, and even uses his talents for charity events. After retiring a few years ago from his position at an automotive supplier in Wauseon, Widmer felt unsure about how he would fill his days, going from working 12-hour shifts to having “all the time in the world.”
Deciding he’d go back to his roots, Widmer remembered the enjoyment he experienced cooking with his mom. “My mom was a baker,” he says. “Her house was always the center for all the kids, who’d show up and say, ‘What’s Marie got?’ She always had baked goods in the house.” Helping his mother out in the kitchen created formative experiences that brought him back to baking later on.
“I think it’s a creative outlet,” Widmer says. “It’s relaxing, and there’s something nice about giving [the baked goods] away, too. We all have memories of where you were when you had this or that. I hope that I’m part of creating memories for people. There’s something really comforting about coffee and cookies, or birthday cake at a party. When I look back at my childhood, that’s one of my favorite memories– the first time I dunked a cookie in coffee.”
Widmer’s skills are in high demand amongst any friends and family who’ve tried his sweet treats. He has made two wedding cakes for family members, which, while stressful, made him happy to be able to help. He says that anyone can bake— it just takes practice and a willingness to accept mistakes and learn from them, a tenet he lives by per another early influence, Julia Child.
“Always start simple,” he advises. “If you try something complicated and fail, you might not try it again. I would also encourage anyone with kids to involve them.” After all, that’s how he first became interested in this fulfilling hobby.