Veteran brings joy to everyday heroes – one bench at a time
Heroes come in all forms and when Ed Cutler finds one, he says, “thank you,” by gifting them a bench he’s refurbished with love and admiration in his home workshop.
Cutler, 82, of Windsor, has made his “Benches for Heroes,” program a retirement project for 10 years, counting veterans and their families numerous among recipients.
Cutler has refurbished about 220 benches in the last decade, some embellished with engraved plaques or symbols, all bearing a small American Flag.
“I get an awful good feeling doing it,” he said.
The feeling is returned by recipients.
Joshua Hight and his wife, Amorette Hight, both disabled veterans, were gifted a bench about a year ago after Cutler read the couple was going to be granted a visit from an organization that assists veterans in making house repairs.
Joshua Hight said the bench is “amazing” and thoroughly enjoyed on the front porch in warm months and the foyer in winter.
To personalize Cutler attached U.S. Army and Navy emblems to represent their service branches and a “Thank you for your service,” plaque.
“We take very good care of it, we’re very proud of it,” Joshua Hight said. “It’s one of our prized possessions.”
Cutler, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Germany and France during the Cold War and a retired diesel mechanic, said he’s not sure why he landed on benches to show appreciation, but he likes working with his hands and for years refurbished benches for family members.
He broadened the scope 10 years ago after he did a bench for a granddaughter’s relative who had lost both his legs in Afghanistan.
Cutler said that when he and wife, Joyce, also 82, began to unload the bench, the recipient, a U.S. Marine walking with prosthetics said, “I’ll take it,” and put it on his shoulders.
“I was quite impressed with that man,” Cutler said. “He’s a hell of a man.”
He looked for veterans to receive benches and found them all over, through word of mouth, in the news, through American Legion and the VFW.
Cutler then broadened the scope to other heroes: a mental health professional that specializes in working with military veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an ICU nurse fighting ovarian cancer, a nurse going above and beyond during COVID, children and teens fighting cancer and other serious illness.
He gave three benches to Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp to put near where kids wait their turn for the zipline.
He’s made them for police departments in Hartford, Suffield and Windham. The list goes on.
“Heroes come in all shapes and sizes,” he said. “I just want to include everybody.”
One of his most recent honorees was Anna Kobylarz of Berlin who is dedicated to helping children in Ukraine affected by the war with Russia.
“She’s gone over there 9 or 10 times at her own expense without personal gain. She just did it to help other human beings,” Ed Cutler said. “There are so many people like her. It gives you faith in humanity.”
Kobylarz said she was “speechless” when she heard she was getting a bench and is having it shipped to the orphanage she is focused on helping in Ukraine. Turns out it had been one of their dreams to have a bench for visitors.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t think others thought of it like this,’” Kobylarz said. “What he is doing is wonderful – making people feel good about themselves.’
Cutler finds the benches by scouting the streets for ones he sees in disrepair or through donations of old benches. When the town landfill workers sees a bench about to be tossed, they save it for Cutler. He’s put the word out around town, so sometimes people just drop benches in his yard. Once he spotted a bench in a yard “falling to pieces,” so he stopped and thought, referring to the resident, “Maybe I’ll talk him out of that bench.” Turned out the owner was a veteran who had cancer, so he fixed it up and gave it back.
Another time he delivered a bench to a veteran he often saw sitting on a front porch looking unhappy – elbows on his knees, head in hands.
“This old man delivered the bench and he perked up right away and laughed,” Cutler said. “I just can’t explain how it feels to do that.”
In addition to numerous places in Connecticut, he’s got benches in most New England states, New York state, Long Island, Texas and soon, Ukraine.
Although on a fixed income of Social Security and a small pension, Cutler pays out of his own pocket to have the benches sandblasted, buy new wood, stainless steel hardware and have plaques made.
He then works the magic in his home workshop, painting details and replacing the wooden boards. “It’s pretty basic stuff, “Ed Cutler said. “I have a workshop with every imaginable tool.
The benches come in all sizes and all kinds of interesting metal designs – swirls, leaves, zoo animals, flowers and butterflies.
“If I’m giving it to a lady I try to make them a little fancy,” he said.
He and Joyce have been married for 58 years and have six children. Joyce’s jobs are to keep a detailed scrapbook of the journey, among other clerical tasks and she irons the flags he gets from the town after they’ve flown on veterans’ graves.
“We each have our own crafts. You need something in retirement. It keeps him busy,” Joyce Cutler said. “This isn’t about him. It’s about them.”
Daughter Clarice Cutler takes care of the Facebook page and along with a few others helps him track down some of the heroes dad hears about.
“I think what he does is fantastic,” Clarice Cutler said. “It’s touching, very touching, it’s thoughtful.”