Clintonville alderman creates unique carvings

Kettenhoven’s legacy includes hand-carved puzzles

Grace Kirchner Leader Correspondent

Photo by Grace Kirchner Clintonville Alderman Steve Kettenhoven shows some of the plaques he has carved. He initiates some of his own designs and creates custom-order pieces.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” has been Steve Kettenhoven’s motto for most of his life. Having been born with cerebral palsy, the condition may have slowed him down a bit, but it never stopped him from trying new experiences.

Carving is just his latest accomplishment.

Kettenhoven said he learned to carve and make wooden plaques for sale as a way to earn an income. Most of the wood pieces the Clintonville resident uses are cutoffs from a furniture factory, he said. When making wooden puzzles, his medium of choice is ¾-inch aspen, he said.

“The thicker wood makes the pieces more durable and allows puzzles to stand up on their own,” Kettenhoven said.

“The most difficult piece I’ve done is a hummingbird plaque. There were a number of intricate inside cuts that took many hours to complete.”

While some of his creations are from his own designs, Kettenhoven will also modify and customize an order to fulfill a customer’s specific request — like a pet’s name, for example.

He likes working out of his home because he can work day or night. He said his customers usually like natural wood but some want a light stain; others want some color to highlight the pieces, so he adds a little paint. Every piece and every order is different in one way or another, he said.

Kettenhoven’s childhood was spent in the Black Creek area. He graduated from Fox Lutheran High School in Appleton. He came to Clintonville in 1975. He always liked to hunt and fish, and soon he produced a fishing report for the local radio station and wrote a column for the local newspaper. He also worked at Trade Winds in Manawa for a short time.

A friend, Bill Jartz, suggested that he do an outdoor program for television, and he connected Kettenhoven with a production company in Green Bay. For three years, Kettenhoven did shows for television all over the country, including Alaska. He says he met some fantastic people, but the job demanded a lot of travel. He went to some pretty remote places, including Newfoundland. Often, he had to fly to the places he would be fishing or ride a six-wheeler, as he did to a caribou hunt.

“I had whales right next to my boat and saw some beautiful icebergs,” he recalled.

During the early 1990s, Kettenhoven stopped producing the show, but he has retained the rights and footage of the production. After that, he worked for Cabela’s for three years, followed by a year at Thrivent Financial.

As his disability progressed, he spent more and more time in a wheelchair. Kettenhoven decided to look for something that he could do out of his home. He always had a fondness for working with wood, and for a time he made musky lures that he would sell. Getting the lures from up north became difficult, however. Today, he keeps busy making the wooden puzzles, plaques and other carvings.

In addition to being a gifted woodworker, Kettenhoven is also a devoted public servant. He was elected as an alderman on Clintonville’s Common Council in District 3 in 2005 and has served in that capacity ever since, except for one term. He serves on the facilities committee, the personnel and labor relations committee and the street committee.

“I have really enjoyed serving. I have learned so much about what it takes to run a city. It is truly a business,” he said. “I try to listen to my constituents, but in the end you have to decide what is best for the entire city.”