Metro-East Living

‘Miracle guy’ bucks trend of throwing things away

Don Stover’s latest project is repairing a guitar amplifier.
Don Stover’s latest project is repairing a guitar amplifier. News-Democrat

Don Stover hates to throw things away.

Not only does he recycle, reuse and repurpose, he makes a living out of repairing items that otherwise would go into a landfill.

“It just breaks my heart when I can’t fix something,” said Don, 58, of Greenville.

That was the case with an old Motorola radio that someone brought into his shop, Don’s Uniques & Repairs.

“I couldn’t get the parts,” said Don, a laid-back man with a long ponytail, salt-and-pepper beard and oval, wire-rimmed glasses.

But many customers are amazed at what he can repair.

“I call him the ‘miracle guy,’” said Leanna Clark, 63, an artist who lives in Herrick. “He just has a knack for seeing what the problem is and fixing it.”

Leanna and her husband, Steve, a farmer, took Don an 1830s regulator clock that had stopped running. He found and installed the necessary part.

Don also repaired two cameras and a weather radio for the Clarks, but the clock meant the most.

“It’s about much more than money,” Leanna said. “(The clock) belonged to Steve’s great-grandfather. The insides are new, but you can see the age on the face. You can just imagine how many people have heard it ticking.”

Don’s current project is fixing a guitar amplifier. On a recent afternoon, he used a digital ohmmeter to test its power-supply fuses.

Do-it-yourself philosophy

People travel to Don’s Uniques & Repairs from as far away as Carbondale with their guitars, lamps, sewing machines, vacuum cleaners and other non-working stuff.

“It’s just great to have somebody with Don’s skills right here in town,” said Cary Holman, 65, of Greenville.

Cary is a faculty member and general manager of Greenville College’s radio station, WGRN-FM. He has asked Don to fix several items, most recently a Marti radio transmitter.

Cary understands Don’s urge to repair, reuse and repurpose.

“We were very slow to throw things away (when I was a kid),” Cary said. “My mom grew up in the Depression, and she could squeeze a nickel until it sang.”

Even 30 years ago, many towns had fix-it shops, where people could take TV sets, fans, toasters, lamps and other household items for repair or refurbishing.

Those days are gone.

“We live in a throw-away society,” said Don, who gets aggravated when things stop working because of planned obsolescence.

Don and his wife, Jan, are part of a “self-reliance and do-it-yourself community,” which they see as compatible with their Libertarian leanings.

It’s also what they were taught as children.

“When we were growing up, it was honorable to keep what you have working and in good repair,” said Jan, 60. “It’s not like that anymore.”

The Stovers share information, opinions, tips and ideas by publishing a monthly newspaper called the Owl Creek Gazette.

Jan serves as editor. She home-schooled her two children when they were small and founded a magazine for senior citizens with her mother in 1996.

“We express the Libertarian philosophy in the (Owl Creek Gazette), and the Libertarian mindset is self-reliance, individual freedom and personal responsibility,” Jan said. “It’s really traditional American values.”

Folkies turned activists

Don and Jan met in the 1970s at Kaskaskia College in Centralia. Both sang and played guitar.

“We were sure we were going to be famous,” Jan said. “You know, everybody wanted to be the next folk-duo sensation. We were big fans of Carole King, Harry Chapin and James Taylor.”

Don went on to work 10 years as a bench technician at IE Communications and eight years as a service technician at Nevco, a Greenville company that makes scoreboards.

He opened Don’s Uniques & Repairs in 2011, after decades of tinkering with small electronics.

“Don built his parents’ first color television when he was about 12,” Jan said.

In recent years, Don’s most unusual projects have included a radio that served as a base for a bronze horse statue, a Grecian rain lamp with oil running down a nude female figure and a golf-themed electric lamp.

“It was a table lamp, and when you pushed the button on the base, the golfer would yell, ‘Fore!’ Then he took a swing at the golf ball, which traveled around on a track and went into the hole,” Don said. “And the crowd went wild.”

The Stovers also host a weekly podcast, “Creekside with Don and Jan,” and a book club that’s now reading “Little House on the Prairie.”

“There’s no one more self-reliant that the Wilders,” Jan said.

The podcast “studio” at the repair shop consists of a 1940s dinette table with a computer, amplifier, mixer and microphones. A nearby fireplace mantel is lined with Jan’s owl collection, mostly gifts from customers.

Last month, the Stovers produced the second-annual Owl Creek Gazette Self-Reliance Expo in Greenville. About 130 people showed up.

“We’re seeing a resurgence of people who care,” Don said. “People who care about the environment, people who don’t want to throw things away, people who recognize that we’re ruining the planet. For us, every day is Earth Day.”

At a glance

What: Don’s Uniques & Repairs

Where: 112 S. Second St. in Greenville

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays

Information: Call 618-580-8779 or visit https://www.facebook.com/DonsUniquesAndRepairs, www.owlcreekgazette.com or www.owlcreekradio.podomatic.com

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