“To all of us, they’re just a hug that you can wrap up into.”
Three times a month from March to October each year, a group of between 80 and 120 quilters gather at a location somewhere in eastern Missouri.
They pull out their needles, thread, and thimbles and work on gorgeous spreads that could easily be sold for hundreds – or, quite possibly, thousands – of dollars.
Instead, the group, Quilts of Valor Eastern Missouri, gives them away to honor veterans from Warren, Montgomery, Gasconade, Franklin, Callaway, Pike, Lincoln, St. Charles, St. Louis, and Jefferson counties.
“We try to always honor veterans who have served in combat from any branch of the service,” Brenda Kenney said. Kenney is one of the directors of the group. “It doesn’t matter what branch, that’s our goal is to get a quilt to all the veterans in our area who have served in combat any time.”
The group has given away more than 4,000 quilts since it was founded on July 19, 2005.
“It’s just a labor of love for most of us,” Kenney said. “To all of us, they’re just a hug that you can wrap up into.”
On July 19, the group gathered at the Elks Lodge in Warrenton to present five more quilts to veterans.
One of the five was Rob Miller, of Warrenton. Miller entered the U.S. Army on Jan. 4, 1974, having just turned 19, and served in Germany as a combat engineer. He was discharged in 1977 and was out of the service for five years before joining the National Guard, where he served for 19 years.
He was presented with a quilt with two bald eagles flying over mountains and an American flag with a red, white and blue pattern and a yellow border.
“It feels awesome,” Miller said. “It is very calming to get something like this and be a part of something like this.”
His quilt also features a stitched-in heart, and it’s the mark of a quilt created by the group.
“There’s a heart in every quilt,” Kenney said. “We like to say that’s from our heart to their heart. We just want to tell them how much we honor them for what they did for our country. I don’t think there’s anything we can do that’s enough for our veterans.”
That’s a sentiment Miller said he really appreciated.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t recognize us,” he said. “I recognize every vet, every guy that wears a hat. I thank him for his service even though I don’t have the hat on, but when I drive away they can see my truck.”
Three additional Army veterans were honored during the gathering. Mark “Todd” Fry, of St. Peters; Robert Gannon, of Rolla; and Paul Gerson, of O’Fallon. Navy veteran Steve Maruicio, of O’Fallon, also received a quilt.
Gannon and Gerson both served in Vietnam, and Kenney said she loves when the group honors veterans from that war.
“I just love it when we get a Vietnam vet so we can honor them because they didn’t get treated that way,” she said, visibly becoming emotional. “They should have been when they came home from Vietnam. I don’t care what you felt about the war, if you felt it was wrong or you felt we should be there. You don’t treat our veterans bad because of it.”
Making sure veterans were treated well is what led group founders Jean Yeager and Jackie Hagerman to start the group, which originated in Warrenton.
“They got this group started and that’s all that this group does,” Mary Jo Edson, another of the group organizers said. “We don’t sell them, we don’t auction them. They only go to people who have been in the military.”
It takes awhile for the quilts to be ready, too, Kenney said.
“Most of them are in the frames for at least two meetings,” she said. And they can range in size from 62 to 70 inches wide and up to 84 inches long, and “they don’t have to be patriotic, but we do a lot of patriotic ones and a lot of them that have patriotic colors.”
The quilt tops are donated, and the group provides the batting and the backing.
“Then the ladies quilt them,” Kenney said.
Kenney also said the group loves to add members, even if someone has no idea how to quilt.
“If you’d like to learn to hand quilt, we’d be honored to teach you.”
And she said if quilting isn’t someone’s thing, they’re still welcome to attend the meetings.
“Just come, if you don’t even want to quilt, just come and see it sometime when it’s in your area because it’s a very cool thing to see all these ladies hand quilting a dying art,” Kenney said. “We’d love to have you anytime.”
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at email@example.com
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