Donor builds toy ducks for St. Jude

St. Jude patient and toy duck

Mason and his twin sister Madison with one
of Carl Summers’ handmade ducks.

Armed with his table saw, a router, two scroll saws, a drill press and a few other power and hand tools, 66-year-old Carl Summers quietly changes the world in his workshop in Clinton, Tennessee.

It’s within that 16 x 32 ft. metal building just outside his home that Summers, a retired boilermaker, carefully crafts wooden toy ducks that have supported the life-saving work of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Summers’ creations have so far raised more than $10,000 for St. Jude, helping the hospital continue Danny Thomas’ dream of one day finding a cure for deadly childhood diseases.

And, ironically, it was a dream that put the idea in Summers’ mind that he should be building the wooden ducks.

“I had a dream about making a toy,” said Summers, who also collects toys. He dreamed he would build a tricycle shaped like a duck, similar to a toy in his collection. At least he first thought it was suppose to be a tricycle. “I worked on one about three months and I just could not get anywhere on it. Nothing was coming together.”

So he thought about the dream he had had those months prior and came to a realization: he was building the wrong toy. He started building a smaller toy duck, based on another in his collection, complete with wheels that, when pulled by a connected string, quacked as the duck’s bill opened and closed.

It took Summers three weeks to get the parts and pieces for the toy and then almost four days to build it. Now Summers can make 50 ducks at a time. Last year, he made 500 ducks and sold them for $20 each at locations around his region, earning the $10,000 that he donated to the hospital.  “All that money I get out of them goes to St. Jude,” he said.

Summers’ involvement with St. Jude began when it was discovered that a young boy from his neighborhood had cancer. The child was sent to St. Jude for treatment, but unfortunately, he lost his battle.

Soon after, a couple from Summers’ church learned that their little boy, Mason, had cancer in both of his eyes. He was also sent to St. Jude for treatment. It was initially believed that Mason would lose both eyes, but with treatment at St. Jude, he has been able to keep one. Summers and his wife, Margaret, accompanied Mason’s family to Memphis when the little boy had his eye surgery. It was an experience that Summers said he won’t ever forget.

“When they had the surgery (to remove Mason’s eye), the nurses cried with the family,” Summers said. “It just seemed like they were all wrapped up in a 3-year-old boy. And, of course, we are too,” he added. Mason is doing well now. “It hasn’t slowed him down,” Summers said. “He’s just a wonderful little 4-year-old boy.”

Other children in his area have also been stricken with cancer. And the deadly illness has even touched Summers’ family. In 1996, his wife was discovered to have cancer. But after completing two-and-a-half years of chemotherapy, 31 radiation treatments and seven surgeries, she is now cancer free.

Summers sees the research being conducted at St. Jude as extremely important. “If somebody is going to find the cure for cancer, it’s going to be St. Jude,” he said. “And if they can cure it in little kids, they can cure it in anybody.”

Maybe one day, Summers said, there won’t be a need for a place like St. Jude because the catastrophic diseases of childhood will be beaten. “And they will, sooner or later,” he said.

But in the meantime, he added, there are still more than 4,500 children battling cancer at St. Jude. “I’d like to make a toy for each one of them,” he said. And though Summers realizes he can’t actually do that, he knows that he is helping many of them have a second chance at life.


April 2004