Pull up a chair: Unique nonprofit digitally preserves veterans’ stories in custom furniture


Preserving stories of U.S. military veterans has become a labor of love for Westfield resident Roy Adams.

After serving 20 years in the U.S. Army, including deployment to Iraq, Adams, 52, retired from the service as a lieutenant colonel in 2013. He worked in several different private sectors as part of his post-military career, including serving as executive director for a school district in Omaha, Neb., for four years and as a private consultant before using his GI Bill to attend woodworking school.

“After I finished there, I moved to Indiana and started making furniture,” said Adams, who opened a custom furniture shop after he moved.

But Adams never forgot the stories that meant so much to him in the service. Soon after arriving in Westfield in 2020, he found a way to connect his love of building furniture with his honor and respect for his fellow veterans. He started the nonprofit Chairs of Honor organization in 2022, which creates custom furniture for veterans with a twist – the ability to carry those service members’ stories with the pieces themselves.

“When we were deployed in Iraq, we had a porch and we had rocking chairs that were made by local Iraqis that we would sit in every night and smoke our cigar pipe and try to decompress,” Adams said. “That’s how we tried to maintain our sanity amongst the stresses of combat.”

Adams said he was contacted by his former battalion commander, who asked him to build a rocking chair. But during a two-hour phone conversation about the project, Adams realized that the stories they shared in Iraq were getting lost.

“How are we going to remember these stories?” he said. “We just tell them to each other. We don’t tell them to anybody else. That was the seed of the idea, and I started thinking about how I could honor veterans and their service. Then through reflection time I decided that I wanted to build something that would honor veterans individually and give them the opportunity to tell their stories. So, this whole idea of a chair — that is my favorite piece of furniture to build – came about.”

Adams saw a news report about Holocaust victims who were interviewed and had their stories preserved digitally, which inspired him to consider incorporating an interview process into the effort to make chairs for veterans, to record those interviews of veterans sharing their stories then attaching that to the chair with a digital marker. Currently, that means a QR code on a plate that is attached to the chair. When the code is scanned, it connects to the veteran’s interview on the Chairs of Honor website.

“The mission of the nonprofit is really two-fold: I want to preserve honor and preserve craft,” Adams said. “We do that through capturing the stories of service, and by giving them handcrafted heirloom-quality chairs.”

Roy Adams Chairs of Honor
Roy Adams of Westfield began a nonprofit organization, Chairs of Honor, in 2022 to create handcrafted chairs for veterans that include recordings of their stories of service. (Photo courtesy of Westfield Lions Club)

Including himself, Adams has five woodworkers who make the chairs. They are based in five states: Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Colorado and Minnesota. He said the only criteria for the chairs is that the recipient is a veteran. Each chair costs roughly $1,500 to $2,000 to fund, which can be funded through donations or can be funded by the person who nominates the veteran.

“I want to be about preserving the honor of the service,” Adams said. “I believe everybody has a story to tell. Whether you were in combat or not, you served your country and you have a story to tell. People deserve to know it, and more importantly, your family does. We tend to not tell our families about our service until late in life and we may forget.”

Adams is looking to grow the nonprofit by expanding programs for veterans, including providing workshops so veterans can learn woodworking skills. He’s been working on grant applications for the $20,000 needed to start that effort but is also grateful for donations and other funding.

Chairs of Honor wood chair COVER
Chairs of Honor creates heirloom-quality custom chairs for veterans. In the process, those veterans are interviewed to tell their stories of their service, and a link to that interview is attached to the chair via a QR code. (Photo courtesy of Justin Sicking Photography/Chairs of Honor)

Chairs of Honor

What it is: Chairs of Honor is a nonprofit organization that constructs chairs with digital technology that captures the stories of the veterans that use them. When the chair is presented to the veteran, a sit-down interview of the veteran telling their story is recorded. The story is then linked to the chair using a unique digital footprint, forever preserving the story to that chair.

How to participate: Chairs of Honor seeks tax deductible financial support to help purchase materials and cover costs to build chairs for veterans. To nominate a veteran to receive a chair, or to make donations, visit www.chairsofhonor.com.