Robert Petty, Director of Plant Operations for Residences at Deer Creek, is a dexterous fellow with a giving heart. He has a love of blues music and wood working that he was able to put together to create a very interesting item: cigar box guitars.
For those who are unaware, cigar box guitars existed as early as the late 1800’s after cigar manufacturers began shipping cigars in smaller containers. The homemade instrument was the solution to the problem of regular guitars being too expensive. An empty wooden cigar box is used as the resonator and the neck is typically a broom handle or any long, thin piece of wood. A few properly placed holes, some screws and glue, and the addition of metal strings bring the guitar to completion. Typically fretless, cigar box guitars are mastered via repetition and memorization of note location on the neck.
Petty started making cigar box guitars years ago after he read an article about Jimmy Hendrix learning to play the guitar on a cigar box guitar. Petty knew his way around a guitar, and he thought that if it was good enough for Jimmy then it was good enough for him. Petty uses the craft as bonding time with his young son.
“We’ll go out to my workshop and build these together,” Petty said. “He has his own little set of tools that he uses and we have a lot of fun together and he thinks he’s building with dad. One day I realized that I could use these guitars as a way of giving back and I brought it to Melissa’s [Huffman] attention. She recommended that I work with Campagna Academy.”
Campagna Academy is a nonprofit organization based in Schererville, IN that provides at-risk youth with residential programs, aftercare services, substance abuse treatment, day treatment and foster care. Formerly known as Hoosier “Boys” Town, the nonprofit was founded by Father Michael Campagna in 1947.
“We have about 100 kids on campus at any given time. This will be a great opportunity because it’s something different then what they do on an everyday basis,” Nikki Wielgos, Senior Director of Development and Public Relations said. “We may find some budding musicians.”
Petty was able to wire up the cigar box guitars so they are electric and the kids will be able to plug them in to an amp and play them louder, or strum quietly, whatever they wish.
“This will be special for the kids,” Beth Szamatowicz, Director of Public Relations and Volunteer Services said. “We try to keep the environment at Campagna as home-like as possible so they will have chores, go to school, go on outings, and these guitars are the special extras that add more to their experience with us.”
“We have family nights and I can see the kids grabbing these guitars and performing for their loved ones,” Wielgos said. “We have many creative kids who could easily express themselves though this.”
For more information on Campagna Academy visit http://campagnaacademy.org/.
Caitlin Vanlaningham is a contributing editor for the LIFE network and specializes in community events and entertainment coverage. Visit Cait on Google Plus orTwitter.