“Before I broke my neck I used to go to lessons once a week for two or three hours, but then I’d go home and carve for six to eight hours," Waicus said. "When I was working, of course, I didn’t have time to do it during the week, so I’d do it on the weekend."
Waicus used to work as a dentist and was a professor at Temple University's Kornberg School of Dentistry. He was able to improve his carving techniques through his experiences with dental tools. There are some tools for carving wood that dentists also use every day, Waicus said.
“I just think it’s really amazing that what he’s done is taken his career and turned it into a hobby,” said Erin Haugan, Brookdale Meadowmont's resident program coordinator.
Waicus has also shared his craft with people in his senior living community and has coordinated with Haugan to set up carving activities.
“The community, I think, is really inspired by Paul in that he really embodies the fact that although someone might be aging physically, they still are a purposeful part of the community they live in and can still contribute their talents,” Haugan said.
Waicus attributes his interest in carving to his father, who was a commercial fisherman in New Jersey and would carve whales, dolphins and other fish to keep awake during his night shifts.
From a young age, Waicus was interested in learning how to carve, and in the 1990s he began taking a serious interest in carving. He trained with a world championship carver for more than 12 years.
Waicus then started training with Jeff Moore, another professional carver. In the mid-90s, Waicus started entering competitions, and he eventually gained enough skill to enter advanced competitions.
“I am now an advanced carver and I’ve won over 80 ribbons, and I’ve won 3 ribbons in the world competition,” Waicus said.
He no longer goes to world competitions, which are held every April, because of his injury. However, Waicus has inspired his granddaughters, Kelsey and Caroline Connell, who are 11 and 14 respectively, to carve.
“My two granddaughters want to try to get into a competition somewhere, so we’ll see what happens," Waicus said. "They’re very good carvers. They started when they were 5 or 6.”
He said his granddaughters visit him once a week and he continues to teach them to carve.
Allison Mihaly, executive director of Brookdale Meadowmont, said Waicus even offered to teach her how to carve.
“I gotta get up there and start learning some of this, but just some of the intricate details that are in (his carvings) are just amazing to me,” she said.