Creative outlets provide enjoyment for shop owner

Rebecca Tower

Art Loeffelman bounced around from one part of his metalworking and fabricating shop, LP Tool & Die, to another.

He points to a large, computer-operated machine that pinpoints 55,000 pounds of water pressure to cut holes in metal and the many products his company has made for its customers.

His talents are obvious to the many customers he's helped over his company's 54 years. He doesn't want any attention to himself. It's clear he's had enjoyment from his work and from other creative outlets.

Among other items, he has made St. Teresa roses, pen holders and starfish that he has given away and molds for simulated stone tablets listing the Ten Commandments, which he used to give to his parish school, St. CatherineLaboure, for the children to paint. Loeffelman is interested in donating the molds and know-how for making the items to some high school students who could sell the products for charitable causes.

He also made a beach scene with palm trees that he said could make a nice backdrop for someone wanting to have their photo taken next to it, perhaps even couples in their wedding outfits to pretend they are at an exotic locale.

He made a figure of Jesus that is on an iron beam cross that stands outside the rectory of St. Catherine Laboure Parish, and he made a sculpture depicting steps to heaven for the school.

Loeffelman had no idea how to proceed on the works at first, he said, nor even what motivated him except that "the good Lord tells me what to do."

Loeffelman, 89, was born into a family of 15 living in the Cherokee Street area of south St. Louis, members of St. Wenceslaus Parish. His dad died when he was 10, and he and his brother soon had to quit school and go to work. He was 15 and his brother was 16 when they went to work at a grocery store. A German immigrant had met him at the store and offered him a job rebuilding diesel engines for automobiles.

"That's how I became acquainted with machinery," Loeffelmann said. "I really enjoy making stuff."

He tried to enlist in the U.S. Marines during World War II but was rejected because of color blindness. A bit later he was drafted by the Army, which sent him to the Navy upon learning of his aptitude for machines and engines. He served in the South Pacific during several battles on "the smallest wooden ship in the Navy." He recalled being caught in a typhoon during one battle. While some ships were flipped, his made it through unscathed.

After the war, he began working for a company that made nuts, bolts and tools.

Starting his own business was rough, as he worked weekends and sometimes slept in the shop. "Wake up, work, nap" was the routine, Loeffelmann said.

He and his wife raised five children and the shop provided for them all. Not bad for a guy with a ninth-grade education, he noted.

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