"Toy Maker" Friday, December 25,
NORTH PORT -- It didn't take long for Dale Aronhalt to figure out how to make
a board for a blind man who longed to play checkers with his grandson.
Cutting out the thick 12 octagonal and 12 circular plastic pieces, Aronhalt
knew a visually challenged person would be able to tell the difference between
the two while moving them across the board.
"He was so excited," said the 72-year-old North Port resident. "He loved
playing checkers, but as he went blind, he couldn't see the colors anymore. So
when I made him a board where he could feel the pieces .... he was back in
business ... Parents also like these specialty boards for their children when
they are traveling because the pieces don't slide. You have to secure each piece
in a hole. They are designed so they are stackable pieces too."
Aronhalt said the man evened the odds with his grandchildren by making them
wear a blindfold every time they played checkers together.
Aronhalt's son, Dan, who lives up north, recently asked him to make a board
for a blind man who lives at the nursing home where he works.
"I made it and sent it up to him," he said. "He asked me how much did I want
for it. They usually cost about $60, but I said for him to consider it a
Christmas present. If the man can play checkers again, that's payment enough for
Aronhalt plans to work with the North Port Lions Club to help others with low
vision or who are colorblind and want to enjoy games again.
Each year, Aronhalt makes a large variety of brain-teaser puzzles. He makes
about 200 of each of these games, including six to 13 peg puzzles played by
strategically placing golf tees in little holes on a pyramid, and a
nail-stacking game. He also makes domino and playing card holders out of
industrial plastic, and tic-tac-toe games with marble playing pieces. He sells
them for $1 and up.
"My neighbor's daughters are teachers. They give the peg puzzles to students
to help them with math and other reasoning skills," he said. "Some of them are
harder than others. Restaurants like Perkins and Cracker Barrel will have these
kinds of puzzles on tables for people to do while they are waiting for their
food. I've had people from other states get one of these puzzles as a gift and
then call me and ask how to solve them."
In addition to games, Aronhalt makes dishwasher-friendly cutting boards;
bill, business card, paper towel, candle and figurine holders; lazy susans;
vegetable and serving trays; hot plates; cleaning supply and mug holders; and
cutting and bread boards.
"I made hundreds of the bread boards with handles and a small dipping sauce
holder. Whiskey Creek restaurant in Port Charlotte bought lots of them," he
said. "Then I got a call for another dozen. I wondered why they needed more at
Whiskey Creek. I was told people like them so much they steal them."
Cutting boards don't just come in white, Aronhalt said. When filling
restaurant orders, Aronhalt is instructed to make them in different colors. Red
is for raw meat, green is for vegetables, blue is for fish, tan is for cooked
meat and yellow is for chicken.
"It helps chefs so they don't cross-contaminate food," he said. "They know
not to cut fish on a yellow board."
The boards can be made in octagon, square or round shapes. They can be small
or really large when they are custom-ordered. He has developed a good
relationship with employees at King Plastic in North Port where he gets his most
of his materials. Before using plastic, Aronhalt made thousands of wood
"The plastic is easy to wash," he said. "People like that feature."
Aronhalt says he loves his hobby. After working at an area golf course for
more than a decade, he now spends as many as 10 hours a day crafting plastic
games and utensils.
"Some days I declare a holiday and don't work at all," he said, joking that
he does that about 200 days a year.
In order to bring people cheer, Aronhalt went to Perkins and gave away
hundreds of his tee puzzles to children.
"It makes me feel good to know people like playing with the puzzles I make,"
For more information on Aronhalt's creations, call 941-426-5669.
By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH
North Port Community News Editor