BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall Of Fame Welcomes Five New Members

From left: Jim Sornberger, Joe Keeslar and Jay Hendrickson minutes after being inducted into the BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall Of Fame®.
From left: Jim Sornberger, Joe Keeslar and Jay Hendrickson minutes after being inducted into the BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall Of Fame®.

BLADE’s Cutlery Hall Of Fame Welcomed Five New Members In 2021 At Induction Ceremony In Atlanta.

BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member B.R. Hughes set a most appropriate tone for the Hall’s 2021 inductions early Saturday morning of the BLADE Show in the Kennesaw Room of the Renaissance Waverly Hotel.

“Over the years I’ve noticed one thing about the man and lady selected for the Cutlery Hall Of Fame,” said one of the co-founders of the American Bladesmith Society in his speech inducting Joe Keeslar. “They are not so interested in themselves so much as they are others.”

In addition to Keeslar, B.R.’s words apply equally well to the four other new inductees: Beverly and Billy Mace Imel, Jay Hendrickson and Jim Sornberger.

Joe Keeslar

Joe Keeslar
Joe Keeslar

Speaking of Keeslar, along with Sornberger, Joe was voted into the Hall last year. However, since the pandemic canceled BLADE Show 2020, it also postponed their formal inductions until this year—none of which dulled Keeslar’s appreciation for B.R.’s speechifying ability.

“[BLADE® editor] Steve Shackleford contacted me last spring and told me I would be inducted into the Hall Of Fame … The first thing I did was call Mr. Hughes and asked him to do my induction speech. You can see why. I asked him to give his best $20 speech,” Joe deadpanned to laughter from the 60-or-so gathering of the inductees’ families and friends. “I think I’m going to have to give him a few dollars to make up for that.”

In his baritone voice and measured manner, B.R. outlined Joe’s early history as a United States Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, marriage to Suzanne, making knives and also fine muzzleloading rifles, and getting his college degree. In 1989 Joe earned his ABS master smith rating and it was also about that time Suzanne, who, in her job as a professor at Murray State University, started taking her students to France in the summer to enhance their French language skills.

“Naturally, Joe had to build a shop over there so he could make knives, and he taught many Frenchmen how to make knives,” B.R. noted. “He also was asked to demonstrate at the Thiers Knife Show, the second largest knife show in France. This practice continued for years. He’s been a wonderful ambassador in preserving the art of bladesmithing.”

Joe went on to become chairman of the ABS, serving in the position longer than all but two others, ABS master smiths Bill Moran and Jim Batson, both members of the Cutlery Hall Of Fame. He’s taught knifemaking at the William F. Moran School of Bladesmithing, Haywood College, hammer-ins in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and Ohio, played a lead role in the rapidly expanding ABS youth program, and taught classes for the first four years of BLADE University. He also authored two how-to books: Handles and Guards and Forging and Finishing the Brut de Forge Knife. Joe thanked three people in particular: Suzanne, their son, Kurt, and B.R.

“Suzanne and Kurt have given me so much over the years in terms of support,” he began, “but the thing they gave me most, they gave me time. Time is a special commodity. You can’t put it in a box or on a shelf and come back in a week and retrieve it. The time is gone. You have to use it when it’s available to you. They gave me time to be me, to do what I wanted to do, in this case the knives and some with the guns, too.”

He also credited B.R. for 30 years of friendship. “I trusted his judgment on the things that came up when I served on the ABS board of directors,” Joe said. “He was there as my mentor and savior, he was helping me decide on the things I needed to be involved in, understanding how the ABS works, what our goals are and all the things I needed to know.”

Jim Sornberger

Jim Sornberger
Jim Sornberger

Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Ken Onion gave the speech inducting Sornberger and outlined Jim’s pre-knife career, which was pretty impressive in its own right. “Guns, knives and tools were the things that molded Jim,” Onion began. “His grandfather gave him a Rudy Ruana knife when Jim joined the Boy Scouts, and his uncle in Redding, California, owned a gun shop with a large knife display. It was there Jim met Harry Morseth in the mid-fifties.”

Sornberger joined the Army in 1963 and became an advisor in Southeast Asia, moving around Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and other countries. After his discharge he joined law enforcement and shortly thereafter became a deputy with the Santa Clara sheriff’s office. From there he became an agent for a federally funded narcotics task force for several California counties, and later worked as a narcotics intelligence officer for military and other agencies in and out of the state.

Following a work-related injury, Jim focused on one of his lifelong loves—making jewelry—while recovering. One of the places that sold his jewelry asked him to make knives. He became a regular attendee and table holder at the San Jose gun show, where he met such storied knifemakers as D.E. Henry, Dave Pitt, Ron Richards and Bob Holt. They and others started a knife show—the Bay Area Knife Collectors Association Show—for which Jim wrote the bylaws. “BAKCA,” as it was known, enjoyed what Onion called “30 years of great shows and wonderful memories.”

Jim joined the Knifemakers’ Guild in 1976 and served on the board of directors, including a stint as vice president. By the late ’70s he’d won several awards for his knives, including his San Francisco-style dress bowies. In 1981 the industry was having quality control issues with 154CM stainless steel, so Bob Holt and Jim started H&S Supply and sold ATS-34 stainless in large quantities, as Onion noted, “essentially introducing it to the entire knife industry.”

Jim gave thanks to his two grandfathers for the time they spent with him and serving as his role models. “It’s really nice to be rewarded for something you’ve done a good part of your life and still enjoy doing—and I’m not quitting,” the 75-years-young Sornberger reassured the audience. “I’ve still got plenty of years left, I think.”
Indeed, for the man Onion called an encyclopedia of the history of the custom knife world, who continues to write for KNIFE Magazine and other outlets, and who travels worldwide, the best may yet still be to come.

Beverly & Billy Mace Imel

Beverly & Billy Mace Imel
Beverly & Billy Mace Imel

Beverly and Billy Mace Imel served as secretary/treasurer on the Guild board of directors for 15 years and were rocks in terms of doing the behind-the-scenes work that was so important to the running of the organization. In fact, when Billy first started making knives in the early 1970s, Beverly did all the bookkeeping for Billy’s knifemaking operation and has ever since, the two celebrating their 61st wedding anniversary June 11. Notably, they are the first married couple to be inducted simultaneously into the Hall. (Cutlery Hall-Of-Famers, Mr. and Mrs. A.G. and Goldie Russell, were inducted separately.)

A tool-and-die maker by trade, Billy was inspired to make knives in 1972 before going on a hunt. He saw a Ted Dowell integral hunter and decided it would be a good knife for the trip, but it cost $100—too much for him to pay for a knife at the time. One thing led to another and Billy tried his hand at making knives, and soon discovered how much work it took to make a good one. Someone saw them and asked Billy how much he wanted for one. “Bill said he never thought about that but he wasn’t charging a hundred because that damn sure isn’t enough, so he said two hundred,” Jim Sornberger winked in his speech inducting the Imels.

Billy joined the Guild in 1973 and the Imels eventually exhibited at shows in Japan, Europe and elsewhere, basically doing everything together. In the process, Billy became one of the world’s best knifemakers. “In the mid ’70s there were several people I was really fascinated with who did a really good job on their knives, the fit, the finish, the detail and the sharp lines,” Sornberger recalled. “And Billy was No. 1 on my list.” A long-time member of the NRA, Billy also made knives for the speakers at the association’s annual convention, including one each for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

In 1984 the Imels were elected Guild secretary/treasurer and Beverly in particular changed forever how the position would be viewed. “She was unbelievable,” Sornberger stressed. “This was in the day before portable phones and you didn’t have a stenographer to take notes, but no matter what we asked her during business meetings—How much did it cost? How many tables did we have? Who made a motion at this meeting?—Beverly had the answer. She’d just tell ya’, boom, who made the motion and who seconded it, and how she got all that stuff I’ll never know. She was the backbone of the Guild for 15 years.”
Regrettably, the Imels were unable to attend the ceremony but sent a heartfelt written thank you instead.

Jay Hendrickson

Jay Hendrickson
Jay Hendrickson

As inductor Johnny Perry noted, when Jay Hendrickson started making knives in Frederick, Maryland, in 1972, it wasn’t long before he learned there was another bladesmith in the neighborhood who just so happened to be the best in the world at it—Bill Moran. Jay met Moran, visited Bill’s shop now and again, and, through practice and dedication, became a bladesmith and joined the ABS.

Jay earned his ABS journeyman smith stamp in 1986—the same year being elected to the ABS board of directors—and his master smith stamp in 1989. Around that time, he was instrumental in establishing the William F. Moran School of Bladesmithing and also taught bladesmithing there, writing and illustrating the manuals used in some of the courses.

He was elected ABS chairman in 1991, succeeding the only chairman the ABS had ever known—Mr. Moran. In all, Jay served on the ABS board of directors from 1986-2018. He and his wife, Nancy, helped develop and coordinate the Bill Moran Hammer-In in 2003 in Frederick and kept it running for two more years before Mr. Moran’s passing in 2006.

Jay was co-chairman of the All-Forged-Blade Expo in Reno from 2003-07 and was instrumental in forming the William F. Moran Jr. Museum and Foundation in Frederick in 2006. He was president of it for 10 years, and today remains on its board of directors. The museum includes a number of Moran’s top knives, “a dressed-up version” of Moran’s knife shop and much more.

“All the effort Jay has put into the museum and foundation is immeasurable,” Johnny noted. “It required years and years of responsibility, but Jay bore it well and got the job done.”

The inductee gave special thanks to his wife, Nancy. “I wanted to thank her for all her help over the years, taking care of all the details, all the flight reservations, all the laundry, all the packing of suitcases. Sometimes when she gets tired she even lets me mow the lawn,” he said to audience laughter.

Jay went on to relate the story of when he was a kid shopping at a sporting goods store with his dad, who told the young Hendrickson to go pick something out for his birthday. Jay went to the magazine rack in the back of the store and saw the Gun Digest Book of Knives.

“I’d been making some knives, nothing big, but I’d been making them since I was a kid, and I looked at the book and it looked interesting,” he recalled. “And I looked down at the bottom and I see the names B.R. Hughes and Jack Lewis. Well, I didn’t know who these characters were but it didn’t matter, so I thumbed through it real quick and said this is a deal!”

Jay’s dad bought the book and Jay read it and told himself, “I can do this.” Looking at B.R. seated in the room, Jay remarked, “B.R., you helped me out a lot with that book and little did I know that one day I would get to meet you, serve on the ABS board with you, and over the years you would help me quite a lot with my knifemaking.

“I remember when B.R. got inducted into the Cutlery Hall Of Fame and he said something like he didn’t think he was worthy of this but he wasn’t going to give it back. Touché—the same with me.”

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