Crafting as a coping mechanism: Holgate’s talents to benefit fellow cancer warriors

Craig Holgate poses with some of his latest items. Craig’s Crafts will have its 2021 debut this weekend at the Mesabi Mall Craft Fair in Hibbing. He plans to have around 200 creations on hand and will be donating a portion of his proceeds to Angel Fund. 

HIBBING — Every item created by Craig Holgate’s hands is one-of-a-kind. 

And so is he. 

“Actually, I’m somewhat surprised I’m still here,” said Holgate Monday while on the road to Duluth for a brain MRI. “I’ve been told a couple of times to get my stuff in order.”

The Hibbing resident is best known as host of The Early Morning Show on WTBX. He’s been open about his cancer battle – one he’s waged for about six years now – on the air. 

“I don’t know what the plan is,” he continued. “I definitely credit my family and friends for their support, and my listeners for their continued support. I don’t know if all that love and prayers are keeping me here or what’s going on.”

Let’s back up to 2015. 

Holgate underwent a routine colonoscopy on the recommendation of his doctor. He had turned 50 months earlier, so it was simply the thing to do.

“I came out with Stage 3 cancer in my colon and in my lymph nodes,” he recalled. “I had no signs, no symptoms.”

Life changed in an instant. 

Holgate endured 8 months of chemotherapy, which doctors believed was successful. His port was removed, and he began a new normal. 

Six months later, he suffered a seizure. 

“That’s when they discovered it had traveled to my brain,” he said. “That has led to four brain radiation procedures and two brain surgeries.”

A full-body scan following the seizure revealed the cancer had also metastasized to his lungs. 

Fast forward to today. 

Holgate gets chemo regularly to combat the 10 to 12 tumors in his lungs. He has a brain MRI about every three months or so. The brain cancer has been stable in recent months.

Cancer has affected his mobility, but it hasn’t robbed him of his creativity. In fact, it’s become a form of therapy.

Holgate is the man behind Craig’s Crafts. His dive into woodwork was spurred by a snowflake – a 3 foot one to be used as outdoor décor, to be exact. 

“We saw the craft project at a craft show the fall after I was given the ‘all clear,’” he recalled. “Without (wife) Tina knowing, I made her one and gave it to her. In the process of making it, I ended up with a lot of small, odd-shaped pieces.”

While growing up, Holgate was witness to his mom’s creative talents. She would always save things and say she’d make something out of them someday. He followed her lead by saving those pieces and began making things out of them.

“Then it morphed into more and more, and things started piling up,” he said. “A friend suggested doing a craft show, so I said, ‘OK, but if I’m going to do that, I want to give back.’”

Holgate’s wood crafts include ornaments, wall hangings and signs with sayings, animal prints, various themes such as holidays, camping and lake life. Some are simple, some are colorful. Some are glittery, some are plain. And yes, he’s made many snowflakes. 

 Most of Holgate’s craft ideas come to him in the middle of the night when he can’t fall back asleep.

“Other times I’ll look at the wood once and not know what to do with it. Then I look at it again, and say, ‘Oh, I’ll do this with it,’” he explained. “Each one is a one-of-a-kind. I never duplicate something intentionally. The main reason I keep everything one-of-a-kind is just because it keeps my mind more involved and keeps my mind off … well, you know what.”

Call his crafting a diversion, and he’ll agree. Making each item unique is part of the draw, part of the challenge.

“It’s a way to keep my mind more engaged in the process,” he continued. “I don’t want to rubber stamp a bunch of the same things out.” 

Holgate estimates he’s made upward of 500 items over the past four years. He plans to show around 200 items at the Mesabi Mall Craft Show in Hibbing this weekend: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, April 16, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 17.

“Shows are fun to do. It’s fun to meet people,” he said. “Some people get really excited when they find an item. That’s fun to see.”

Holgates admits that some craft events prove physically taxing, but it’s the best way for him to share his crafts with the public. He doesn’t sell online, nor reserve items when he posts photos on Facebook. 

“They have to come to the show,” he said.

Feedback on his work is always positive. 

“And, quite honestly, I think people are more inclined to buy when they know a part of it is going to a good cause,” he added. “I put a tip jar out too and people usually tip pretty well. Sometimes the tips outweigh the profits.”

Holgate’s charities of choice are Angel Fund and the Itasca Area Cancer Crisis Fund. He plans to share a percentage of this show’s profits with Angel Fund, which provides financial assistance for Northeastern Minnesota residents battling cancer for expenses not covered by insurance.  

He knew of Angel Fund before being diagnosed with cancer. 

“I had done radio interviews about events they were holding and when cancer hit me, I got a call from them right way saying we have some gas cards for you. It really made an impact on me,” he said. “When you get that diagnosis, usually it comes out of the blue. You don’t know what’s going on, you’re unsure. Then to have someone reach out and say they want to help, that’s a big deal.”

Holgate has long been a friend to Angel Fund, Angel Fund President Kelly Grinsteinner confirmed. 

“Craig is such a great guy, great help and great ambassador for Angel Fund,” she said. “In many ways, we consider him an ‘honorary Angel.’”

His efforts and contributions have directly impacted many fellow cancer patients. 

“He’s already paying it forward, despite the fact that he still battles cancer,” said Grinsteinner. “That’s a true, one-of-a-kind warrior.”  To apply, donate or learn more about Angel Fund, see Catch Holgate on WTBX’s 93.9 The Early Morning Show from 5 to 9 a.m. 

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