EDA gala guest speaker Kevin Carr explains how his business, Create Ability, has changed his life and that of his family, but that none of them would ever choose to relocate from Chatfield.
EDA gala guest speaker Kevin Carr explains how his business, Create Ability, has changed his life and that of his family, but that none of them would ever choose to relocate from Chatfield. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS

Chatfield’s the pad to do business…that’s according to the pad business guy.

“We’re the quietest business in town,” said Kevin Carr, of Creating Ability, the kayak yoke pad entrepreneur.

Carr developed a kayak yoke pad and adaptive kayaking equipment to help the disabled paddle away from their wheelchairs. He addressed the Chatfield Economic Development Authority (EDA) and its gala attendees last Tuesday evening, Nov. 21.

Carr was the guest speaker during the gala at the Chatfield Center for the Arts (CCA) – a new facet to the event meant to highlight the accomplishments of Chatfield businesses and owners. He brought with him examples of his work that were quietly developed just a few streets over from the CCA, the product of his personal trials being turned into a new vocation and aspiration.

“After the loss of two children before birth, our friends took us to the Boundary Waters. They said, ‘You need the Boundary Waters and a kayak.’ I was looking at the pile of 85-pound canoes…there was pain in losing two children, and carrying those canoes on my shoulders was a pain, too. But once I got out on the water, the pain of losing children (wasn’t as sharp). I made new pads for the yoke of the canoe, and some Winona friends took it up with me,” Carr explained. “I’m now cornering the yoke pad market – only in Minnesota and upstate New York can you become the king of a kayak yoke pad market…the yoke’s on you.”

Carr went on to explain, in 2004, he walked away from an engineering job in Lewiston to follow this career path. “I was 45 years old and at that point in life where many guys who are 45 walk away from what they were doing,” he added.

He pointed toward his wife, saying, “This wouldn’t be possible without that lady there, and our six kids, too. We’ve learned so much as a family – our six kids spent a lot of time in front of the TV, assembling yoke pads. Later, I met a quadriplegic with no function in his core, and he said, ‘Build a kayak seat for me.’ I did – I built one so that it would support his core, added stabilization to the kayak so he wouldn’t tip over, and he was out on the water, just like everyone else.”

Carr said he has been able to travel the country and has met a lot of veterans. “There are a lot of veterans on the beaches . . . we’ve made it possible for them to get out on the water and see that wheelchair sitting there on the beach…nobody knows whose wheelchair it is,” he added.

The entrepreneur highlighted, “Now that I’ve got the freedom to create, we’ve grown to where we distribute in Hong Kong and we’re selling seats in Norway. My wife and I have been going to Norway to demonstrate how to use the kayak seats.”

The business is expanding into a truly viable company, but Carr said he and his company are not leaving Chatfield.

“This is home to all my kids,” he said.

He then elaborated on how he’d developed more equipment for disabled kayakers. “We’ve found ways to stabilize people’s cores and added outriggers to the kayak so they’re on the water just like everyone else. If you don’t have use of your hands, I’ve developed a paddle that takes the weight off the back of your hand, or, if you’re without hand function, I’ve come up with this design that you can use your thumb to strap the paddle to your hand, but if you flip over, nothing holds you to the paddle.”

He concluded with the projects he currently has at hand. “I’m now working on ways to get in and out of all sporting equipment, and also, we’re working on a bench for in the house so that people can transfer themselves independently.”

Following Carr’s presentation, Mayor Russ Smith first asked Chatfield Police Chief Shane Fox and city office employee Nancy Timm to come up, sharing that Fox has been part of the city’s police force for 20 years and chief for 10 and that Timm is finishing her fifth year in the city office.

Following their honoring, he stated, “Prince was a Minnesota icon. He strove for clarity of vision in his music. He had a willingness to do whatever it took, and he had the drive for excellence – he played every instrument on his recordings. He was a celebrity in Minnesota, but he didn’t let his celebrity drive him away from his home. We have our own local celebrity in F. Mike Tuohy…he’s got his own clear vision of what he wants, the willingness to get it done and the drive for excellence. He has been recognized by RAEDI with a lifetime achievement award.”

The attendees applauded the now-retired proprietor of Tuohy Furniture and community volunteer.

Michael Tuohy, chairman of the EDA, and EDA Director Chris Giesen rounded out the kudos by handing out certificates of recognition to new businesses and new business owners, including Sarah Iverson, proprietor of Corner Cuts Salon; JAC’s Bar & Grille; Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant; building owner Tyrel Clark – who is renovating a building on Main Street; and to Paul Cousineau of MediaCom.

Tuohy remarked, “Over the past five years, there have been 29 awards to city employees…Chatfield projects have gotten over $7 million in grants. It takes everybody here to make this a successful city.”