The University Record, March 8, 1999

‘Hat-a-day’ knitter, spouse keep Project SERVE supplied

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Their daytime jobs deal with the repair and maintenance of electronic equipment and office management. But Wayne and Lee Burkhardt usually start another “day” on the way to their Livingston County home.

Wayne has been the supervisor of the Department of Chemistry’s electronic shop since 1981. Lee retired in 1997 as administrative assistant to the department chair and now works half-time as an office manager for a local small business. She also is president of B Industries, described by Wayne as an entrepreneurial company.

Once out of the office and on the way home, Lee latches onto a set of knitting needles or a crochet hook, turning yarn into hats for U-M’s KnitWits program as Wayne negotiates the evening traffic. This past year Lee, who says she “loves to knit,” made one hat each day for the program—365 hats for distribution by students participating in Project SERVE. “If I have a goal, I’m just that much happier,” Lee says of the hat project. Wayne matched her contribution, using a tool he designed and made, contributing at least 300 pom-poms for the hats.

A couple of years ago, the Burkhardts responded to a plea that appeared in the Ann Arbor News. Through the program outlined in the paper, the couple “adopted” a family during the holidays, purchasing what the family listed as its needs. But Lee and Wayne were in the habit of helping all year, not just at Christmas. And when the agency couldn’t meet their desire to provide year-round services, they began their own tax-exempt program, Fairy Godparents.

Working primarily to help families become self-sufficient, the Burkhardts gather and distribute household items for individuals and organizations in Washtenaw County. “We don’t turn anything down within reason, even if we can’t use it,” Lee says. “If we don’t have someone who can use the item, we take it to a consignment shop and then use the money from the sale to purchase what is needed.”

The familiar “If you want a job done, ask a busy person to do it,” probably applies to the Burkhardts. But you’ll have to be quick to catch this active couple.

When the daytime jobs are finished, and her fingers aren’t busy knitting and purling, Lee volunteers with Catholic Social Services. “I do whatever they ask me to do,” she says, “which may be answering the phones or entering information into a database.”

And, as members of the Dexter Rotary Club, they also are involved in numerous civic activities. Though they live in Livingston County, Wayne says, “Our whole life is in Washtenaw County.”