ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Francis Kallas' large farmer's hands, though a bit shaky, nimbly thread purple beads onto a white chord.
Ten finished rosaries lay on a white towel on a rolling bedside table. Kallas sits up straight in his overstuffed recliner, reading glasses on his nose, as he puts the beads and knots on his 11th. He started the batch the previous night. Each rosary takes about 20 minutes. He makes anywhere from zero to 10 a day.
"The rosary is the second-most powerful prayer," the 91-year-old said.
It follows only Mass.
The rosary is a Catholic devotion guided by a series of beads and knots that represent a sequence of prayers. The prayers include the "Hail Mary," ''Our Father," ''Glory Be" and "Apostle's Creed." Some people better know the "Our Father" as "The Lord's Prayer."
Somewhat oversimplified, a rosary is comprised of five decades, or groups of 10 beads. A "Hail Mary" is recited for each bead, and there are also other prayers that are part of the process.
The Aberdeen American News reports that as he works, the April 12 afternoon sun bathes half of Kallas' room at Aberdeen Health and Rehab in a warm glow. He watches a baseball game. The teams playing are inconsequential. His favorite team is whichever is on TV and his favorite pastime is making rosaries.
"I started," Kallas begins.
"Let's put it this way, my mother made rosaries. Chain rosaries. My sister in Minnesota made chain rosaries and cord rosaries. In 1995, she started my wife out making 'em. I thought what the hell; I could probably do that, too."
In the past 23 years, an estimated 65,000 cord rosaries — beads on twine or rope — have been crafted by the hands of Kallas and those of his late wife, LaVere. She strung them until arthritis made the threading too difficult.
Francis Kallas has never stopped.
The rosaries are distributed all over the world. Kallas recently received a forwarded letter of thanks from the supplier of his materials — Our Lady's Rosary Makers. The letter was from a Catholic bishop serving in Papua New Guinea. In it, the bishop noted that the rosaries are well-received. With many of the people he serves being illiterate, the rosary prayers are easy to memorize, the bishop wrote.
Kallas shrugs off any concern about what so many rosaries have cost him.
"It isn't that much. I have to buy the supplies and I have to ship them."
He says a priority mail box will hold 360 rosaries. He has a nearly full box in his room. The rosaries are bundled by color. He doesn't choose the colors, but was pleased that lately he's been sent translucent beads, compared to opaque ones.
"Beads are kind of glasslike. You can see through them, I kind of like that," Kallas said.
There's a half-full Mason jar with a rainbow of beads in it on the edge of his work area.
"Once in a while the jar gets full and I make what I call Mason specials," Kallas said, holding up a multi-colored rosary.
He laughs, remembering giving one to a grandson who wore it to school like a necklace, the kind of jewelry rosaries resemble.
Kallas is a devout Catholic and a veteran, having served from 1950 to 1952 stateside doing construction and engineering. He attended a heavy machinery school. He farmed and was a "grease monkey" — his words — in the Wetonka and Leola areas. He and his wife raised 12 children and they all attended Mass every Sunday.
"On the farm, we went to Leola, Our Lady of Perpetual (Help)," Kallas said. "Everybody went to church. I never worked much on Sundays. Feed hogs, feed cattle, that's it."
Kallas was asked by staff if he cared to be his wife's roommate at Aberdeen Health and Rehab. She'd gotten very ill and had been recuperating for more than 100 days, but wasn't healthy enough to go back to the Carlyle Apartments where the couple moved in 2005. Kallas said yes. He moved in, and they enjoyed their time together, still attending church and visiting family and friends regularly.
"She improved after I got here," Kallas said.
But LaVere Kallas, 85, died in her sleep Jan. 1. Two beds, pushed together, still outfit the room. There's a brief tinge of sadness as Francis Kallas talks about his wife, but good memories and the pride he has for her keep his spirits light and cheerful as he finishes the rosary, pulling the last string very tight. He lays it among the others.
"I never feel like I'm wasting my time when I do this," Kallas said.
He doesn't remember his first rosary, but assumes he received one at his first communion decades ago. He always keeps one close.
"Oh sure, I have one in bed," he said. "At night when I can't sleep, I pray the rosary."
Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com