Colorado taxidermist giving veterans a hand

CANON CITY, Colo. — On the windowsill of Jerry Vinnola’s taxidermy shop sits a pyramid of small white tubs.

On the outside of each is an American flag and the words “Veterans Day is every day.”

On the inside of each sits enough powder to mold and cast an adult’s hand and a red, white and blue rubber bracelet.

Jerry Vinnola calls them Honor Hands kits.

They’re intended for veterans.

Vinnola, the son of a Korean War veteran, is hoping the kits — sold for $42.99 each from his shop and at his website, — help veterans’ loved ones honor and memorialize their heroes — especially members of the quickly disappearing Greatest Generation.

“When we found out we were losing 1,000 World War II veterans every day in this country, we thought, ‘There’s not going to be anymore,” said Vinnola, who launched Honor Hands with his business partner, Chet Karlowski, on July 4, 2011. “We’re trying to get as many as we can while we’ve got them.”

In additional to the kit, the casting process requires 12 cups of water and takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

After a couple days of drying, hand casts, which have a matte white finish, can be removed and painted, mounted, decorated with dog tags and other mementos, or turned into urns, said Vinnola, who provides customization for an additional fee.

“If you can mix pancake batter, you can make these hands,” he said.

For Vinnola and Karlowski, Honor Hands has been more of a labor of love than a business venture.

Seed money from investors allowed the two to have 10,000 kits assembled.

How many kits the pair has sold, Vinnola isn’t sure.

He’s fairly certain they’ve given away more than they’ve sold — to veterans such as Fort Carson’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Joe Anderson, and several Colorado Springs-area World War II veterans.

“Some of these veterans have been out of the service for years, and this is the first time they’ve been thanked for serving their country,” Vinnola said.

Vinnola and Karlowski also donate 20 percent of proceeds to charities that benefit service members, veterans and their families.

Launching Honor Hands “wasn’t about making money,” Vinnola said. “It was about restoring honor. If we do the right thing, the money comes.”

While Vinnola and Kawlowski aren’t making a living off Honor Hands, they hope that veterans can.

Vinnola envisions thousands of veterans coming home from war, leaving the service and starting up work as Honor Hands franchisees.

Veterans can make a living off of charging civilians for the hand-casting service, Vinnola said.

“There aren’t many jobs right now,” he said. “Veterans can do this for people.”

Vinnola hopes to grow Honor Hands into a self-sustaining business that he can easily run alongside of his taxidermy business.

Animal carcasses will bring home the bacon, and Honor Hands will primarily exist to generate donations for military charities, he said.

“I’m in the business of preserving memories of dead animals, but to be in the business of preserving the most valuable part of the ones we love — this has not been done,” he said.

“You can hold a hand. You can’t hug a photo.”