There was a time when the vacant space above Great Plains Computers and Networking in Marion was a place of honor, once the home of the local American Legion post.
It became such a place again Saturday when more than a dozen women toted sewing machines, tables, irons, and fabric up the wide wooden staircase to spend the day making quilts for military service members.
“It started at 8 a.m., but some of us were here before 8,” Sew What Quilt Shop partner Paula Perry said. “The big tables were already provided for us; Lloyd Davies set them up for us.”
Quilts of Valor Foundation was formed 13 years ago by Catherine Roberts when her son was deployed to Iraq. Since then, more than 149,000 volunteer-made Quilts of Valor have been awarded to military service members, both active and veterans.
A Wichita chapter was formed in 2003, and Perry has been associated with the group almost since the beginning.
“It was in the latter part of 2003 that I found them at a quilt show,” she said. “I was looking for something to do with like-minded people. I had two good friends, Jan Meisinger and Mary Lancaster, and we did a lot of things together, so when I started going I said, ‘You’re going to go with me.’”
Perry also had a personal stake in the endeavor, her son, C.J., who served in the Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Perry, Meisinger, and Carol Riggs opened Sew What in 2010, the program had an outpost in Marion.
“I told the girls we were going to do whatever we could do for Quilts of Valor,” Perry said. “As we got space over here, we had enough room to have a classroom.”
Saturday’s daylong retreat, however, needed a bigger space to accommodate not only the equipment, but a group of sewers from Wichita that joined the county contingent.
The group worked just on decorative patterned quilt tops Wichita coordinator Lisa Conner said that the tops would be distributed to volunteer longarm quilters, who add batting and backing. The quilts are finished by other volunteers who bind the edges and attach labels used to record information about a quilt and its recipient.
“I got involved about five years ago with Quilts of Valor, and this by far is the most rewarding organization I’ve been involved with,” Conner said. “It just means so much to say ‘Thank you’ to individuals who have put their lives on the line, who’ve been asked to do things we wouldn’t even think of doing. It’s the least I can do to make a quilt for them.”
Perry said quilt presentations can evoke strong emotions.
“I always think about when we did a presentation at the VA hospital in Wichita,” she said. “There was a girl that was sitting behind me, and it turned out she was given one of the quilts. When she came and sat back down, she just bawled (while stroking the quilt). That’s the one that really touched me more than any of them, but they’re all very appreciative.”
“Many of the Vietnam vets would say this is the first time somebody has said ‘Thank you’ for your service, or even welcome home,” she said. “People who have received medals and that type of thing, I’ve had them say that this is much more precious and this means more to them than any of their medals. It comes from civilians.”
Conner noted that quilts are awarded to active service members when they return from overseas duty.
Publicity for recent presentations surrounding Veterans Day has created increased interest in quilt requests, Conner said.
Anyone, including service members, can request a quilt for a qualifying service member through Quilts of Valor Foundation’s website, www.qovf.org.