Local man ‘MacGyvers’ face shields

Retired CMN professor makes protection for clinic staff
Harlan Pygman, a pilot and retired professor at the College of Menominee Nation, set up shop in the Shawano Municipal Airport to make face shields for the Menominee Tribal Clinic health care workers.
Matty Mathison
Carol Ryczek

SHAWANO — Take an antique commercial sewing machine, a bolt of flexible plastic, a bit of door insulation and the problem-solving skills of MacGyver, and you get 16 face shields for health care workers.

In the TV series, Angus “Mac” MacGyver was a U.S. government agent who used his talents for unconventional problem solving and vast scientific knowledge to save lives. In the show, he would use everyday objects like soda bottles and duct tape to create a functioning gas mask.

Shawano resident and retired College of Menominee Nation professor Harlan Pygman took that approach to make face shields for workers at the Menominee Tribal Clinic.

Face shields are worn over the eyes, nose and mouth, to keep droplets from hitting a health care worker’s face.

“I know people were making face masks,” Pygman said. “I was concerned about shortages and thought maybe it was something I could do to help.”

Pygman said it takes about a half-hour to make each mask. He set up an antique commercial sewing machine in his hangar at the Shawano Municipal Airport. He inherited the machine from his father and had just finished restoring it. He said the commercial construction of the machine means it us up to the task of stitching the heavy, unusual materials.

“It can really sew through stuff,” he said.

Pygman designed the shield himself. The materials grew out of a shopping trip to Walmart, where he was looking for clear shower curtains. He was in the crafts section looking for elastic and heavy fabric when he found a bolt of flexible plastic.

That, plus some felt from Qualheim’s True Value — usually used to insulate doors — were what he needed to complete his design. The plastic shields the face, while the elastic and fabric hold it tightly in place.

Sorry MacGyver, the final product is way more effective than a soda bottle gas mask.