At age 87, man is a self-taught paper folder sharing his love of origami



Joe Scullion shares his folded creations with young and old

Like many children, Joe Scullion knew a bit about origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. As a child, he’d even folded some simple shapes — a dog, a duck.

But it wasn’t until 2018, when the Dayton Art Institute hosted a traveling origami exhibit, that Scullion became entranced by the ancient tradition. As a DAI docent, he decided he needed to learn more before taking museum visitors on a tour of the show.

“I became hooked,” said the 87-year-old whose business card now reads, “Joseph F. Scullion, Origami Practitioner.”



He thinks part of the fascination was that he was a “born and bred engineer.” Scullion spent the last 20 years of his career working at NCR.

“The nature of folding paper to make a shape or a thing just has a certain engineering vibe to it,” he said.

In origami, a flat square piece of paper is transformed into a sculpture without the use of scissors or glue. The word comes from the Japanese “ori” which means “to fold” and “kami” which means paper.

For Scullion, that “paper” has become an integral part of his everyday routine. When he heads out of his Beavercreek home, he’s carrying a stash of origami paper. If he’s wearing a suit coat, there will be origami paper in his pocket. If not, he’ll be carrying a 12-pound bag filled with a variety of pretty papers.



As he makes his way through the day, he delights young and old with his on-the-spot creations. Most take about two minutes to create.

“I do this for attractive women and young children,” jokes Scullion, but the truth is he’s happy to oblige everyone he encounters. One day while at the Kettering Rehab Center for his workout, one of the nurses approached him.

“Joe, I’m going to see my grandchildren today, can you please make me four spinners and two flapping birds?” she asked.



The “spinners” are a combination of three pieces of paper that are folded separately, then put together so they can spin on a tabletop. Hold the flapping bird by the front breast and pull the tail and the wings flap.

“The kids love that,” said Sculion. ”When you make the wings flap, they smile and laugh. You can’t buy that joy.”

Teaching workshops

At the Beavercreek Senior Center a few years ago, Scullion happened to mention that he did origami.

“The lady who runs it suggested I do a workshop so I’ve been doing that ever since,” he said.

He also offers instruction at the Washington Township RecPlex.

He’s self-taught and learned the techniques from online videos.

“I get a mix of people at the classes,” he said. “Some have difficulty seeing and understanding the folds. For others it’s second nature.”

Beginners start with a frog or that popular flapping bird.

“Depending on how people react to the simple things, I might go on to do something more complex,” Scullion said. " I show people how to do the folding but I don’t do the folding for them. When they’re done, they have a piece they have made by themselves. Their eyes light up.”

Finding new interests in retirement

Scullion, who retired at age 62, said that after his wife passed away in 2002, friends encouraged him to sign up for the docent program at the Dayton Art Institute.

“I knew nothing about art at the time but I took the training and became very interested in art,” he said. ”I don’t know what other people do for retirement but there are 30 days in a month and I like to fill them with things that make people happy. I do have a sense of giving back.”

He and his wife, Mary, were also involved with the Dayton chapter of Friendship Force International, the nonprofit organization that has a mission of improving intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, friendship, and intercultural competence via homestays.

“Mary and I joined when we moved to Dayton in 1977,” said Scullion. “Every year our club visits one or more clubs someplace and we host people each year from other clubs. They stay for a week in our homes, we introduce them to Dayton.”

Joe and Mary hosted folks from other countries over the years and traveled to Ukraine, France, Italy.

“We always had a good time,” he said. " What’s great is that you meet nice people from other countries and the most important thing you learn is that we are not that different. Other people have the same needs, wants, loves, the same willingness to open their hearts and arms to people from other countries.”

The organization, founded in 1977, now has 300 chartered clubs and programs in more than 60 countries on six continents, with more than 18,000 members worldwide. It is open to everyone who is interested in getting to know people from other countries.

The American dream

Scallion believes his life journey has been a gift from God.

“My father was a common laborer who went into the coal mines at age 12 in Scotland so there wasn’t money for a college education,” he said. “With corporations offering tuition refund programs, I was able to go to night school to get my college degrees.”

Born in Philadelphia, Scullion first worked for Philco Corporation, an electronics manufacturer. For eight years he attended the Drexel Institute of Technology. “I went to night school from 7-9 p.m. three nights a week and Mary was home with the children,” he said. He went on to work towards an MBA, first at Lehigh University and then at the University of Dayton, both under tuition-reimbursement programs from his employers. “That’s why I maintain I am a product of the American dream,” he said. “Working during the day, going to school at night.”

These days, he is also enjoying his involvement with DALI, (Dayton Art Lovers Initiative). The name is a play on the famous artist, Salvador Dali. Recently Scullion shared an origami workshop with its members, most of them former docents at the DAI.

He has three children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“I’ve had a wonderful life, a gift from God,” Scullion said.

More info

Joe Scallion conducts a 90-minute origami workshop at 1-2:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Washington Township RecPlex. There is a $4 charge for non-residents, it’s $2 for residents. Classes are limited in size. Call (937) 433-0130.

For information about classes at the Beavercreek Senior Center, call (937) 427-5500. If your group is interested in contacting Joe for an origami workshop, call (937) 545-9584.

For additional information on Dayton’s Friendship Force Club, visit

About the Author