NORMAN — Dan Selchow has quite an impressive resume. He built and carved the doors at St. John’s Episcopal Church. He has 50 plus years of woodworking experience under his belt. He’s made banjos and mandolins, too. Dan Selchow has even made the cabinetry and staircase in his house, pleasing his wife Jean, his most important client.
Most recently, Selchow has been making Native American Flutes. What started out as a retirement hobby, has now become a new career.
In October, Selchow had a once-in-a-lifetime experience when a few of his flutes traveled to the Vatican with Brother Isidore Harden for the canonization ceremony of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be proclaimed a saint.
Selchow and his wife belong to the Flute Circle at Jacobson House. Through the gathering of the Flute Circle, Selchow was introduced to Bro. Harden of St. Gregory’s Abbey in Shawnee.
During a conversation with Harden, Selchow learned that Harden and his Monsignor were traveling to Italy for the canonization of Tekakwitha.
“He (Harden) thought it would be nice to take some small flutes. He was looking at purchasing some flutes from a person who mass produces flutes. I said, ‘I’d be happy to build some for you,’” Dan said.
Selchow then came home and built a small prototype of a flute. After sending Bro. Harden a few photos, Selchow heard nothing.
“Then I happened to bring a small flute to the Flute Circle. He (Harden) was there and he really liked it so he ordered five,” Dan said.
The next morning, Dan received a call from Harden saying that the Monsignor was so happy with the flutes, he wanted to purchase more.
Shortly after the purchase of eight flutes, Bro. Harden traveled to Italy for the canonization ceremony. Again, a few days went by and Dan heard nothing.
Then, out of the blue, Dan got the call he never imagined he’d receive. It was a call from Bro. Harden saying that one of Dan’s flutes was presented to the Pope and now is in the Vatican archives.
“As far as we know, it’s the only Native American flute in the Vatican archives,” Dan said.
Bro. Harden also played one of the eight flutes for a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pope the day after the canonization. This also was the first Native American Flute ever played at a mass in St. Peter’s. Also during his visit, Bro. Harden played Dan’s flutes at several smaller masses at different churches in Italy.
“He’s sure, because these type of flutes were not around back then, that it is the first time a Native American Flute has ever been played in those types of services,” Dan said.
Dan’s flute making has actually become a project that he and his wife have done together. Dan does all of the carving and Jean dresses all of the flutes with leather work and beading.
“When I retired, I didn’t think I was going to turn into a flute builder. I knew I would be doing something with wood,” Dan said.
Dan, who retired a year ago last May as a National Trainer for the U.S. Postal Service at NCED, and Jean, who is retired from Norman High School, also sell their flutes through dealers in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., and in Santa Fe, N.M.
“Retirement is not for wimps,” Jean said.
The couple, who have formed Journey of Life Flutes, feels they were given an opportunity very few individuals are presented with during their lifetime.
“The opportunity to use our God given talent to make something of significance that would be kept in the Vatican in perpetuity. When we were commissioned to make these flutes, we knew that they would be taken to Rome and gifted to individuals attending the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha. We had hopes that one might be given to the Pope, but that was, in our minds, a long shot,” Dan said. “Getting the phone call from Bro. Isadore and finding out that our deepest hopes had come true was a knock us off our feet experience. It is humbling to know that something we made will be in a place where it will be valued, protected and cared for long after our deaths. Playing a small part in such a rare and great occasion as a canonization of anyone, let alone the first Native American, is hard for us to comprehend. We feel proud and humbled by this experience.”
For more information on Journey of Life Flutes, visit jolflutes.com.