A 2-Story Tree House
In 2012, when his oldest grandson, Aiden, turned 1, Dr. O’Dell had something very special in mind to build. He decided on a tree house, but not just any tree house. He built one that is two stories, 35 feet high and surrounds a giant oak tree. The main platform, which is nine feet off the ground and 144 square feet, is larger than some people’s bedrooms. Another 100 square foot, enclosed section serves as a loft.
Every year, Dr. O’Dell has added elements of fun that are age appropriate for Aiden and Aiden’s now 2-year-old brother, Elliott. These include rope ladders, enclosed slides that come off the main deck, swings, a rock-climbing wall, a firefighter’s pole, a roof hatch and a trapdoor. This summer, he plans to wire the tree house for electricity. He wouldn’t dream of building a modern tree house without electrical outlets and a ceiling fan. He draws the line, however, at indoor plumbing. Someone else will be responsible for those upgrades, he says emphatically.
“The tree house is clearly the largest, most time-intensive project I’ve done over the years,” says Dr. O’Dell, who spends anywhere from 30 minutes to 20 hours a week, both at night and on weekends, building mainly toys and gifts for family, colleagues and friends. “During one weekend in July, my son and I built tables for his café. I probably spent 25 hours on just these four tables.”
The cycle of life continues. Dr. O’Dell now teaches his own grandchildren woodworking. Together, they build birdhouses—similar to those he built with his grandfather—and toys, such as wooden cars and marble runs. Last year, before a family vacation in Colorado, he helped his two oldest grandchildren, Georgie and Aiden, make walking sticks in exotic colors for the entire family.
Part of woodworking’s appeal, he says, is the peace and occasional quiet he experiences in his workshop. No one is calling, texting, emailing or banging on his office door for something that needs to be done immediately.
“Woodworking is one way I achieve wellness or balance in life,” Dr. O’Dell says. “It’s very peaceful to be out in my shop, by myself, doing these kinds of things, working at my own pace and making things for those I love.”
Carol Patton, a freelance writer based in Las Vegas, Nev., writes the Rheum After 5 column for The Rheumatologist.
1977: Completed medical school at UNMC
1977–1980: Finished residency in internal medicine at UNMC
1980–1981: Served as chief resident, Department of Internal Medicine, UNMC
1981–1984: Completed clinical and research fellowship in rheumatology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver
1984–1990: Assistant professor, internal medicine, UNMC Omaha Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC); associate residency program director, Department of Internal Medicine, UNMC
1990–2019: Program director of internal medicine residency at UNMC
1990–present: Chief of rheumatology at UNMC and the Omaha VAMC
1996–present: Professor of internal medicine at UNMC and the Omaha VAMC
2016–present: Stokes Shackleford Professor of Internal Medicine