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Sugar House Journal

Cross-stitching custodian shares talent with students

Mar 12, 2018 15h52 ● By Lori Gillespie

Heber Stohel, award-winning cross-stitcher instructs his students at the Open Classroom. (Lori Gillespie/City Journals)

Heber Stohel started cross-stitching 21 years ago. He had a girlfriend at the time who cross-stitched, and he wanted to give her special gift, so he learned how to cross-stitch on the sly. He stopped seeing the girlfriend not long after he completed that gift, but found a love for the art and has continued to cross-stitch ever since. 

His projects are large and he takes special care to frame them all himself. Often these projects take months to complete. Many of his projects require the use of a special loom, one that can roll up part of the fabric in order to work with it more easily.  

He enjoys sharing his creations. He made many pictures for his mom, who passed away six years ago. She wanted Heber to have them back after she passed but they were lost. He recently found them with the help of his brother. A favorite is one of a fairy with wings that contains over 1,000 beads in the stitching.

“I did one design once for the girls’ basketball coach at East High School when I worked there. I took a picture of a basketball standard, brought it down to scale to fit on my canvas.  It had the backboard, the hoop, the net, and then stitched the names of the kids and the coaches and gave it to her as a gift.”

For 10 years, Stohel has entered his art in the Utah State Fair and has won multiple awards.

Stohel currently is the night custodian at the Open Classroom, a charter school which is part of the Salt Lake City School District. The Open Classroom is a K-8 school and depends on parent participation in order to function. Many parents share their skills and talents by teaching elective classes to the 6th-8th graders. Elective classes have included cooking, mock trial, photography, pottery and community service projects. When the teachers and students discovered that they had an award-winning cross- stitcher in their midst they knew they had to ask him if he would share his talent. Stohel was happy to work with the kids. 

“Heber comes to share his talents with our kids all on his own time, which is appreciated,” said Chantelle Murakami, a teacher at the Open Classroom.

He had never taught anyone how to cross-stitch before so he was nervous at first. However, he now loves teaching the kids. The goal is to have the kids display their projects for the school’s art stroll in May. 

“I think they are doing fabulously,” said Stohel.  He takes special care to answer their questions, test their knowledge, and offer suggestions. 

Stohel has become a positive member of the community, someone everyone appreciates. 

“Heber is very engaged with the students and parents in the school which is not always something you see with custodial staff,” said Christine Marriott, the Open Classroom principal. “He takes special interest in the school and sees it as a special place for kids and families. He shows how much he cares by checking in with the kids and gives them high-fives and encourages them at the end of the day. 

Unified teachers, parents and staff are essential to a student’s school experience so they feel cared for, Marriott said.  

“Heber is a great example about how a staff member can really add to the learning experience for kids,” said Marriott.

Stohel has been a part of the Open Classroom community for a few years and he doesn’t have any plans to leave. 

“When I started working at the OC, I didn’t know anything about it,” said Stohel. “I had retired a few years earlier from a head custodian position and came back to work with the district as a sweeper because I needed health insurance. When the job at the OC opened up, I took it. I’ve discovered that the people around here are fabulous. I like the closeness of the community and the parents, and it’s just a really good fit. It’s a good place.”