Happy Father’s Day

I love my family.  They are remarkable people.

My dad is Ron Klebba and he’s been a huge influence on how I live my life.  He is a woodworker.  When I was young, he had his own business as a furniture maker.  We lived in the middle of Michigan in a small town with not much to offer.  But he made a go at it,  and he did it.

We lived in a house he built himself with help from his people.  This is not like when you’re at your uncle’s house and he says “Oh, we built the addition…”  and he means he hired a contractor and a small group of subcontractors to build it.  No, my dad BUILT THE HOUSE.   He was up early on days off starting in the spring, with his friends and  family helping set the foundation, frame, insulate, roof, run electrical, plumbing, windows, doors, siding, painting, all of it.  He also built most of the furniture and cabinets in it.  He had a shop that sat about 20 feet from the house, with a tablesaw, jointer, planer, bandsaw, and lots of lumber.  The lot also held a large shed with firewood.  I had a big sandbox and my parents had a garden that seemed enormous at the time.  My mom would can vegetables and we would make tomato juice.  Dill pickles in mason jars lined shelves in the basement.  We lived about 5 miles outside of town on a dirt road across from acres of woodland.

When I was in third grade, my family decided it was time to move.  Dad got an opportunity to teach building trades at a county wide technical center (trade school) 20 minutes from the town he grew up in — Harbor Beach, MI.  It was where I would spend my formative years.  Mom and dad bought 7 acres of woodland property across the street from Lake Huron, 5 miles outside of town.  Dad built another house.  This time, I remember it being built and I even played a very (very very) small role.  It was a really cool thing to be a part of.   I remember string being pulled tight from wooden stakes in the ground that laid out where the foundation would be.  I roofed.  I painted.  We moved in without doors on the bedrooms and with a plywood floor.  It all got finished within the next year.

We had an owl that hung out in our yard and hunted.  You could walk down the dirt road to a creek.  The lake was easily accessible through our neighbor’s backyard.  I would wander the trails in the woods behind our house and beyond for hours and hours.   The trees and the lake were huge. In high school, I would sneak home late on a trail in the dark and through the backdoor.   Looking back, it was a great way to grow up.

In the wintertime, we would selectively log our property for firewood.  Dad and I would get up early, take the tractor and sled onto the snow covered trails deep into the forest. With a chainsaw and a splitter we cut down ash trees for fuel for our woodstove.  It was grueling, but looking back, those are some of the fondest memories I have from growing up in the woods.   The cold holds you and it’s beautiful tall barren ash trees with white.  There’s something really pastoral about a Midwest forest in the snow.   I can smell it.

Dad had a new shop behind the house.  Pretty much every single day, dad would get home from teaching school and go work in his shop.  This man is driven.  He worked on projects for clients or for himself.  He built all sorts of things.  He worked hard.  He taught us (my sis and I) the value of hard work, responsibility, and focus.  I’m pretty sure it’s called discipline.  Not only that, he taught us you really can do anything you want to if you put your heart and mind into it.   He built wooden sailboats in that shop.  Beautiful, gorgeous, functional sailing vessels.  Watching that unfold was absolutely inspiring.

My folks were teachers.  Teaching salaries will not make you rich, but we did alright.  They were smart with their money and they were able to save by building their own houses.  We were happy.

My sister and I both spent time in Chicago before we moved to Portland.  Here, I make furniture and she’s working in the footwear industry.  Our parents recently moved out here.  They’re spending this summer in Michigan, but they’re in Hood River, Oregon 8 to 9 months out of the year.  We couldn’t be happier.  I get to spend a lot of time with my father and his experience is invaluable.  He is the head of research and development here at Phloem Studio.  Family feels really good.  Happy father’s day, Dad.  And thanks.

The stool above Dad made has followed me around for years.  The chair he made below has gone from Harbor Beach, to my sister in Chicago, to Portland, where it now resides at Beam & Anchor.




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6 Responses to Happy Father’s Day

  1. Chris Moses says:

    Ben – This is great stuff. I had no idea that your whole family moved out to Portland. From reading your posts I was wondering how proud your dad must be of you and a bit bummed that he can’t work with you or see your work often. I really love to see the pics you upload and read your posts. Since having kids, I had to stop running my side business of custom woodworking. After filling the house with furniture, I’m out of personal projects for now as well…so I will need to live vicariously through you :) Great work! You have a knack for writing as well.

  2. Hey Ben,

    This is such a good post, thanks for taking the time to write about your parents’ influence in your life. My dad passed away 10 years ago last week and when I see pics of you and your dad I get really lonely for him and the years that I got to spend with him in his shop. Now having kids of my own, it is inspiring to read about experiences like yours because it reinforces how important it is for families to have solid experiences together and for parents to be examples of dedication, hard work and creativity.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Ben says:


      Thanks for the kind words. I realize now how valuable growing up in a creative environment was. Working with dad now is completely awesome and we’re lucky enough to have a pretty rare father/son working relationship. Take care and keep in touch.


  3. Mike Schneider says:

    You don’t know me, but I knew your father and mother many years ago in college at Eastern Michigan. Your dad and I were room mates sharing a house on Summit Street in Ypsilanti. Your mom and dad were married in the Catholic Church just off of campus. His roommates use to call him “Geppetto” because he was such a craftsman at building things (Industrial Arts Major). It doesn’t surprise me that he has had the career he has—and it doesn’t surprise me that your mom and dad are such great parents! Your mom and dad were great frends—we gradually lost track of each other as we got older, but your family picture brought back great memories of two old friends.

  4. Jobot says:

    Thanks for the read! Families like yours makes America the place it is. Rock on, Ben!

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