Benefit will aid injured artisan


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Working at a homeless shelter, fixing a leaky roof, organizing benefits for those in need — these things were all part of a typical day for Russell Karkowski until he fell from his roof in November 2009.

The self-employed woodworker’s accident occurred while trying to patch a hole; after extensive rehabilitation, he is recovering at Craig Hospital in Denver.

The Iowa Artisans Gallery, 207 E. Washington St., will hold a benefit for the man who was a cornerstone in creating the gallery 25 years ago. The fundraiser, “We Love Russell,” will be on exhibit until March 2.

When family and friends spoke of him, they all mentioned his acts of kindness and the way in which he selflessly gave back to the community.

“He’s the kind of guy who everybody loves,” Iowa Artisans Gallery marketing director Astrid Bennett said. “He would do anything for anyone.”

Karkowski, she said, repaired a roof for two friends after the 2006 tornado. He helped Bennett when her husband was in the hospital having surgery for cancer the day before Thanksgiving. He showed up with a full turkey dinner.

Barbara Schelar described her husband as “incredibly compassionate and concerned for the well-being of others.”

Karkowski was in a coma for three weeks after the accident. Since then, he regained speech and is now going through six hours of therapy a day. But he still has a long journey ahead of him.

“I have been so amazed by his steady mind,” Schelar said. “It would be very easy [for Russell] to be agitated and angry, and everyone told us that’s what would happen, that would be normal part of the healing process. But it hasn’t.”

Karkowski’s longtime friend Don Rinner described him as a “wonderful cabinet maker” as he sat at a table created by the woodworker. Rinner’s home is filled with the 61-year-old’s work.

Schelar also said the community helped the family by giving books, food, and even frequent-flier miles so that she could fly from Denver to Iowa City to organize the remodeling of their home.

“It’s been absolutely amazing,” Schelar said. “Everywhere, people have been incredibly generous with their thoughts and prayers.”

Schelar said the unknown future that lies ahead for Karkowski and his family seems “daunting.” The couple are self-employed, and neither has been able to work since the accident. Schelar said they are taking things one day at a time.

Even with uncertainty ahead of them, optimism is a central theme as the community around Karkowski gives back to a man who has continually given to them.

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