Winter Garden resident, veteran starts 'Operation Hot Glass Heroes' nonprofit

Winter Garden resident and veteran Mark Van Osdel hopes to bring the glass-blowing techniques he’s learned to other local veterans.

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  • | 12:00 p.m. January 24, 2018
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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WINTER GARDEN  When he was a 10-year-old kid visiting Silver Dollar City, Mark Van Osdel spent hours there watching hot-glass artists create intricate glass sculptures.

It’s something the Winter Garden resident never imagined he’d get to do himself. But now, glass-blowing is one of the the things the U.S. Navy and Army veteran considers therapeutic.

The Iowa native spent three years active in the Navy in San Diego and then three years in the reserves back home in Iowa. After 9/11, he decided to go back into the Navy — but not before a fight with cancer.

After beating the disease, Van Osdel ended up enlisting in the Army and was deployed to Iraq in September 2007, where he spent 15 months. 

“After I got back, I had problems just like every veteran did,” he said.

Van Osdel suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and, like many soldiers experience upon returning from war, has dealt with involuntary, automatic reactions and hyperawareness. He takes medication and has a service dog named Chance, but coping is still tough.

But in fall of 2016, his counselor at the local veterans center invited him to participate in the first glass-blowing class for veterans, offered by Joel and Logan Ryser, of Hot Glass in Davenport.

For three weeks, six veterans met twice a week for a couple of hours to learn the art of glass-blowing. They would learn and apply techniques to make items such as paperweights, glass flowers, vases, cups and bowls.

“One, you’re creating something, but two, you’re getting back into that team environment,” he said. “You have a mission again — to create this piece of glass and to help your teammates. When you have that type of mission or focus or whatever you want to call it, your outside daily worries kind of dissipate when you’re doing that. For the time you’re in that class and helping those veterans, thing are better.”

Mark Van Osdel has learned to make a variety of items with glass.
Mark Van Osdel has learned to make a variety of items with glass.

Once classes were over, Joel Ryser invited the trained veterans to come back and help blow glass at any time. Van Osdel is headed back next week to help with things and blow glass for a few days.

And he loves it so much that he is working to start a glass-blowing class of his own for other local veterans.

The Van Osdels just moved to Winter Garden last summer. Although Mark has connected with the local veterans center, friends from church and other veterans, he missed glass-blowing and saw the need to bring it to veterans here.

After talking to his wife, he sold one of his car trailers to raise the money needed to fill out paperwork to bring his nonprofit — Operation Hot Glass Heroes — to life.

“I think I actually got more satisfaction after I ‘graduated,’ coming back and helping with the other veterans classes,” Van Osdel said. “I loved blowing glass and being part of that first class, but I got a whole lot more (from) helping the veterans.”

Operation Hot Glass Heroes would offer those same classes to military veterans, as well as fire, police and EMS professionals who encounter similar stressful situations. He is currently in the process of raising money to buy the equipment and supplies needed so he can hold classes at no charge to them.  

If everything goes well, Van Osdel hopes to hold his first class in March at either the West Orange VFW or the American Legion in downtown Winter Garden. Although he’s collected some equipment and supplies, he’s still raising funds to purchase more — and hopefully reach more veterans. 

“One of the biggest coping parts of it is hanging out with those veterans and helping them,” he said. “Whenever veterans get together, it doesn’t matter what war or service you were in, we all bond. Even though we don’t know each other’s story, we end up being bonded by the same brotherhood and sisterhood.”


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