While he was very good at carving wood, Fred Mendoza carved out some great relationships with the many people he met.
He was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army from 1948-1952, where he met his late wife, Sonja, said his fiancée, Mickey Smith.
After a 50-year marriage, Mendoza's wife died and he joined a bereavement group. There, he met Smith, who had recently lost her husband, Wayne.
Fred Mendoza, 83, of Hammond, formerly of Dolton, died June 15.
After they became very close, Mendoza moved into Smith's home.
"I feel like I know Sonja," Smith said, noting that her presence is all over the house just as with her late husband.
Soon after joining the bereavement group, Mendoza began organizing dinners and luncheons for the members.
"Fred did not want to see lonely people so he made sure that everyone had a gift for their birthdays," Smith said.
The couple traveled the country through Motorcoach Tours and local driving excursions.
One of Mendoza's greatest interests was elephants, Smith said, noting that his obsession resulted in over 5,000 figurines.
"He had one elephant room," she recalled with a laugh.
On one "elephant hunt" at a garage sale, Mendoza met a woodcarving teacher and began taking lessons, Smith said.
"He mostly did relief carving, but also figurines," including a bust of JFK, cows, flowers, cowboys, angels, saints and even a pair of denim overalls.
He also put on the finishing touches by painting them, Smith noted.
With no kids of his own, Mendoza became a father figure to Little League kids as an instructor because he loved molding young minds, Smith said.