Beautiful Story…

Hundreds touched by his angels

Valley man works to craft comfort for himself, others

Sarah Anchors
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 8, 2003 12:00 AM

Angels crowd the Gardiner Home, a hospice house in Phoenix.

Cherubic angels dance while painted angels blow horns in a case in the hall. Wind-chime angels dangle above the sink. A stained-glass angel catches sun rays from the backyard window.

On the bookshelf stands a foot-tall, smooth, wooden angel. Faceless, simple, graceful.

It’s a John’s Angel.

The first wooden John’s Angels, crafted seven years ago, were rough-hewn and lowly, hanging on the wall. John Wilborn shaped them based on a stone angel he had made for the Hospice of the Valley Gardiner Home, where his son, John, died in 1996.

Now John’s Angels float on a wooden platform, with wavy edges, like a cloud. Pieces of wood fit seamlessly together, cherry wood like ruddy cheeks, oak the color of a deep tan, walnut that looks like dark chocolate and sandy bird’s-eye maple laced with fine veins.

Some have a plain panel behind them, others a cross, some a Star of David.

Wilborn, 69, of Glendale, has sent angels to Elton John, Oprah Winfrey and Bette Midler.

He gave one to West Valley businessman John F. Long when Long’s wife, Mary, the namesake of Maryvale, died in 1998. The same year, Jackie Valenzuela died of AIDS at the Gardiner Home at age 15. She was buried with a John’s Angel.

Wilborn has made at least 800 of the angels.

He delivers them to people who are friends of a friend, and through volunteers at local hospices. He believes they’ve reached Ireland and England.

It takes three hours to make an angel, he said.

“Sometimes I bawl . . . when I’m making them,” he said. “Sometimes I can do an angel without even having a bad thought.”

He chokes up when he talks about his son, a rugged, handsome man who modeled in Los Angeles and died of AIDS.

“Down at the Gardiner Home, there were angels all over, made of paper, wood and wax,” Wilborn said.

He said he’s not religious, but the image touched him.

Hospice volunteer Terri Mansfield has helped disseminate the angels, sending about 40 to friends and keeping several in her home.

“I give them to someone and then I call John and say ‘I need another,’ ” Mansfield said. “Sometimes he says, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make them anymore,’ and then he says, ‘Yeah, I’ll keep making them.’ ”

She likes the simplicity of the angel.

“Anybody could relate to it,” Mansfield said. “It’s just the wood and the shape.”

People also are attracted to John’s Angels because of the story behind them, written on a piece of paper around the angel’s neck, she said.

Mansfield said she pays about $35 for each angel. The angels are free, Wilborn said, but people often offer money. He donates it to the hospice, he said, or gives it to his wife, Mary, who makes dolls for poor and sick children.

“People don’t want something for nothing,” he said.

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