It seems fitting that American flags came to the rescue of a man born on the Fourth of July.
For J.D. Fondren and his wife, Adrianne, crafting wooden replicas of the flag has gone from an idea to a demanding occupation in fewer than four short months. It’s also lifted the young couple from Steens from what they describe as a “low” in January to new heights of fulfillment. So much so, they are preparing for their first festival outing May 4, when Fondren Flags will be among more than 225 arts and crafts vendors at Market Street Festival in downtown Columbus.
On Wednesday, wood dust flew as J.D. ran a handheld grinder over the rippling surface of the next Fondren flag. Adrianne held a Dremel tool, ready to demonstrate how she engraves custom designs. Flags in every stage of completion surrounded them. Their enthusiasm showed, as did a grateful sense of marvel at how fast this “flag business” has grown.
“It started when New Year’s came around, and I got a hankering to make a flag. I wanted to try to make one with a wave in it,” explained J.D. In fact, another woodworker had dared him to see which one of them could post one on Facebook first. J.D. accepted the challenge.
“We put a picture up at 7 p.m. one night in January, and by 7 a.m. the next morning, we had 30 orders, even without us realizing we were gonna sell them,” he said. “And another mindblower is I changed my post from ‘friends only’ to ‘public,’ and it went from 30 to 100 orders in a two-day period.”
The Fondrens are still surprised at how quickly word of mouth and Facebook publicized their flags, but they acknowledge that it came at the right time. Not long ago, the couple was going through the strain of trying to get a new construction business up and running.
“I was putting business before everything else,” said J.D.
“We were at a low — personal, financial, everything,” Adrianne remarked. “It was very humbling.”
From the time they began dating, and especially since their marriage two and a half years ago, the couple had made a habit of praying together. But for almost the first time, “We didn’t know what we were supposed to do … but we were leaning on God,” said Adrianne. Then J.D. went in the workshop on a cold January day and made a wooden flag, unaware that it would alter everything.
The design, of course, has evolved as the craftsman has refined his templates that create a unique wave effect in the 40-by-20-inch flags that start out as stacks of 2-by-4s. After J.D. cuts, assembles, glues and smooth the flags with hand-held grinders, Adrianne painstakingly applies stains and any custom-order embellishments. To date, those have included tributes to military service members, service branch seals, fire and police department emblems, Bible verses, company names, sports team logos, Nascar numbers, an 18-wheeler — even a lineman on a utility pole, for a 4 County executive.
“Until we got married, I didn’t even know she had all these talents,” praised J.D. “We are husband-and-wife run, and when the flu was going around, she was down for two weeks — and Fondren Flags does not operate without both Fondrens. I can make wavy flags, and she makes them beautiful. She takes my designs and just makes them 100 times better.”
Since the first flag, the Fondrens have encountered helpful people along their way. One was a gentleman, a woodworker, in Texas they met online. He showed an interest in the flags and struck up a friendship that eventually led to phone calls, shared advice and the offer of a bandsaw.
“That act of kindness, especially from a stranger we’d never met before, really boosted us, set us on a new path and gave us motivation,” expressed J.D.
He and Adrianne are grateful, too, for the support of Jason and Molly Heleniak. Jason saw one of J.D.’s flags when J.D. worked on a patio addition at the Heleniaks’ Columbus home. The Heleniaks have been more than fans ever since.
“They have been really influential to us,” said Adrianne.
“They’re good people and getting started out and have a good product,” remarked Jason, who has to date purchased five flags. He advised the couple to show at Market Street Festival, an event he’d volunteered with for years.
“We knew Fondren Flags would be a perfect fit and a welcome addition to Market Street Festival,” said Festival Chair Amber Brislin. “Their unique works of art showcase their combined skills that produce some really amazing works that can adorn the walls of everything from an outdoor patio, to home interiors or a formal board room. … It’s always fun when you discover new artists right here in our own back yard.”
The Fondrens are shipping flags to six states now. At present, “we can’t make the waving flags fast enough,” J.D. said. “It has taken over and paid our bills for the past four months. But what has taken off, too, is the people we’ve met … coming from a low at New Years, after the flag business took off we have met nothing but angels, that’s what we call them. It’s nice to meet good people, paying it forward and having that inspiration behind you, having your drive given back to you. We feel very blessed to even get this opportunity. We’re just very humbled and blessed.”
Editor’s note: Fondren Flags will be at booth 76 on Main Street, near Thai by Thai Restaurant, at Market Street Festival May 4. For a list of all vendors, music and activities, including a free concert at the Riverwalk May 3, go to marketstreetfestival.com.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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