Wrapped in appreciation

If you served in the military or lived in America’s Vietnam era, you probably remember the controversy, hostility, demonstrations, and even violence that occurred.

Homecomings for servicemen were often difficult. Returning veterans got chilly, sometimes hostile receptions, not thank yous.

Fast forward to Afghanistan in 2004. Catherine Roberts was the mother of a young soldier deployed there. She was worried that he would return from war to the same type of reception our vets received when they returned from Vietnam. She wanted him to know how proud she was of his service, so she presented him with a quilt.

(Photo provided)

(Photo provided)

It was the first Quilt of Valor presented as a tangible thank you to a returning vet, and it launched a national project to honor veterans and give them a tangible reminder of a grateful nation’s appreciation for their service.

Catherine’s friends and fellow quilters liked the idea and began making more Quilts to be presented to local veterans in Delaware. Catherine volunteered at Walter Reed hospital in Washington DC and soon convinced the chaplain there that it would be a great idea to have a quilt on every bed as wounded veterans were admitted. Thus, a new national organization was born. Since 2004, Quilts of Valor have awarded more than 150,000 Quilts to veterans throughout the United States and in all branches of the military.

In 2010, the Quilts of Valor concept came to Sun City, Huntley, and northern Illinois. Two Sun City women – Jan Meyer and Sue Bruss – became local leaders. In the late fall of 2010, their quilt guild, Gazebo Quilters of Huntley, was asked to send representatives to a planning meeting for the Northern Illinois quilt-fest to be held in the summer of 2011.

“We were asked to plan some quilt-related service project to draw visitors and quilters to our area,” said Meyer, a resident of Neighborhood 21. “The idea to do something quilt-related to honor area servicemen and women resulted in the August 2011 Weekend of Valor at the Cosman Center at the Huntley Park District. During the event planning, we were connected with Quilts of Valor, and Catherine Roberts, now the national director of Quilts of Valor, spent the weekend with us, teaching, mentoring and presenting ideas. We displayed 75 patriotic Quilts, produced 30 new Quilts of Valor in weekend workshops, welcomed more than 1,000 visitors to the show, and raised a lot off money.”

The two women are co-chair persons of Gazebo Quilters. “Since 2011, we have awarded more than 1,100 quilts,” said Bruss, also a resident of Neighborhood 21. “In 2014, we made the decision to separate from the Quilts of Valor national foundation and continue as Gazebo Valor Quilts. It keeps all of our donations in the Northern Illinois area.”

The Gazebo group has invited 34 northern Illinois veterans, including 11 from Sun City, to a quilting presentation party July 11 at the group’s headquarters, the American Community Bank at Reed Road in Huntley. It is one of three large group presentations of quilts held each year. Activities start at 1 p.m.

The group meets at the bank on the first Tuesday of each month to create and produce the quilts.

“We have 40 to 50 women actively involved in producing the quilts,” Bruss said. “We spend about five hours each Tuesday. The bank has graciously donated a huge room for our quilters in the bank’s basement, and provided storage space for all of our supplies and equipment between sew-ins. The families have been invited and our quilters are there to show them how the quilts are made. We have a formal ceremony with a color guard, patriotic songs, and each veteran is individually honored and wrapped in his or her quilt. We follow the ceremony with fellowship and treats. It takes about 25 hours to make one quilt, that’s why we recruit so many quilters. We have about 40 members, so we can make 10 or 20 in a month.”

Meyer elaborated on quilters’ dedication.

“During the year, we do many individual and group presentations for birthdays, family reunions, neighborhood gatherings, veterans groups, wherever we’re invited to present these quilts and honor the men and women who provide us with the freedoms we all enjoy,” Meyer said.

“We keep albums of pictures of each veteran presentation, including notes we receive from them and their families. Our group of volunteers work as a family unit. Each of us takes responsibility for setting up. Providing greeting, sewing, hauling, baking, singing, loading, and unloading, etc.”

A valor quilt is a lap-sized or larger quilt (minimum of 55 x 65 inches), made of quality cotton fabrics and quilted by a long-harmer machine.

The recipients’ reactions are a big reward. One recent recipient said, “My quilt isn’t another military medal to be placed in a box to sit on my shelf. I was moved to tears.

Another veteran added, “I’ve waited for this hug for 45 years.”

Roberts’ vision was to cover service men and women touched by war,” Meyer and Bruss both said.

“These quilts will be a tangible reminder of America’s appreciation and gratitude for a long time.”

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