By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
Temperatures outside have fallen into the single digits on several occasions this month, but six residents at Linnwood Estates assisted living in Glenwood are sleeping warmly under new quilts. Everett Shaw, Carl “Lee” Anderson, Roger Orrin Lonnevik, John Matula, Marvin E. Meggison and Eugene A. Murdock were presented “Quilts of Valor” in a special ceremony Dec. 7.
Quilts of Valor is an organization that presents veterans and service members with handmade quilts as a way of thanking them for their military service.
The organization was founded in November 2003 by Catherine Roberts of Delaware, whose son, Nat, served as a gunner during the war in Iraq. The worried mother began making quilts for veterans after she saw a vision of a veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder in the middle of the night while wrapped in a quilt for comfort.
To date, more than 94,000 quilts have been awarded to veterans through a network of quilters, longarmers (people who use a longarm sewing machine to quilt together the top, batting, and backing of a quilt) and Quilts of Valor coordinators.
“I got involved about three years ago when I bought my longarm quilter,” said Jeanine Williams of Council Bluffs. “I just put out the call to my quilting group that there’s a need, do we want to do this?”
Her group, Quilts from the Bluffs, traditionally meets the second Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. at First Christian Church in Council Bluffs. They made five of the quilts distributed in Glenwood.
Quilters pride themselves on creating quilts in a wide variety of fabrics. That’s one reason why each Quilt of Valor is unique. Quilters also have a wide variety of patterns from which to choose.
“(The pattern is) whatever the quiltmaker chooses to make. There are thousands of patterns,” said Cyndy Billmeyer of Dubuque, the Iowa state coordinator of Quilts of Valor.
While each pattern is unique, Billmeyer said there are three popular colors for Quilts of Valor.
“Ninety-eight to 99 percent of them are red, white and blue,” she said. “Star (patterns) are very popular. I’m making one right now that is green, navy blue and gold.”
Five of the six quilts given in Glenwood were red, white and blue. The sixth contained shades of gold with the patriotic colors.
Three of those quilts presented that day are a pattern called Jelly Roll Racers. These are created from strips of fabric sewn together to create one 1,600-inch long strip. At that point, quilters have a race folding the long edges of the strip together again and sewing to create a strip half the original size. They fold and sew again and again until they have a quilt top showing 32 stripes.
“It’s kind of a fun thing to do,” Williams said. “The ladies race for fun to see how fast they can sew these strips into a quilt top.”
Williams said she enjoys helping with Quilts of Valor because “I like seeing the faces of these guys who get the quilts and how appreciative they are. It’s amazing.”
Williams shipped the quilts made in Council Bluffs to Billmeyer in time for the presentation in Glenwood.
“I heard about these vets from my aunt, Kathleen Jorgensen, who lives at Linnwood Estates,” Billmeyer said. “Last summer, she mentioned to me ‘there’s a couple of veterans here who would like a quilt of valor.’”
Word of mouth is how Billmeyer finds most of the veterans, and she appreciates receiving each and every name.
“Because of privacy laws we cannot go to the American Legion and get names of veterans,” she said.
“Sometimes we hear about someone on TV.”
Billmeyer, whose dedication to this organization keeps her busy up to 10 hours a day, kept the Linnwood Estates veterans in mind for several months. She eventually contacted the activities director and discovered there were actually six veterans at the assisted living facility.
Ironically, the date Billmeyer had available to bring the quilts to Glenwood was Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.
Billmeyer said she’s happy to be a part of Quilts of Valor, and especially enjoys being able to personally show her gratitude to veterans.
“They are very humble, but once we give them a quilt, we often see tears in their eyes,” Billmeyer said.
“Then they tend to open up a bit and say ‘thank you.’”
Billmeyer said the Korean and Vietnam War veterans are especially grateful because they don’t often receive the recognition of other veterans.
“They were not welcomed back in the way people are today,” Billmeyer said.
Five of the six veterans who received quilts on Dec. 7 served in Korea. Shaw was the exception, serving in the Navy during World War II.
The veterans were appreciative of the quilts and the presentation.
“It was kind of a surprise,” Shaw said.
Lonnevik, who served in the Army during the Korean War, was overwhelmed by his quilt.
“Oh, my goodness! It’s an honor,” Lonnevik said.
He also said the quilt will definitely stay in his family.
Meggison, also an Army veteran from the Korean War era, said he was honored to receive one of the quilts.
“This has been beautiful. It was just wonderful,” Meggison said. “For this to come out of the clear blue sky like this … it was amazing.
“When this idea was brought up, I didn’t have any idea what to expect. I’ll sleep under the quilt every night from now on.”