by Britt Kaufmann
Becky Gillespie (Parkway Playhouse Board Member and Quilt Guild Member) left me specific instructions to drop by on Monday or Tuesday of last week at the Burnsville Town Center where the Guild was gathering to sew together for two days. Many of them had agreed to sew quilt blocks for the Parkway Playhouse Patchwork Quilt and it was a time where I could perhaps inspire others, and collect incoming squares. Little did I suspect the stories that would come from this group or how difficult it would be to drag myself away from the room of women and their whirring machines.
Each woman was working on her own project: a spring table runner, a Hero Quilt (for a vet), a Helping Hands block (for women fighting breast cancer), or quilts for friends or family. They bantered with each other, called out prayer requests and updates on friends’ health, requested help with their projects and received it, praised each others’ work, and laughed.
When I asked more about what the “Hero Quilts” were all about, the women steered me toward Fran Whitley, who heads up that project every year. Hero Quilts are bed-sized quilts the women make each year for veterans primarily in the Madison, Yancey, and Mitchell Counties (since those are the counties represented in the guild). Names are collected via word-of-mouth and the work begins. Three years ago, when this began, the guild made and presented 37 quilts. 26 were presented the following year and this year they hope to have 35 completed.
These quilts are presented in a special ceremony on the Burnsville Town Square as a part of Hero Day, which will occur this year on May 23.
“There was a time when vets were forgotten and not appreciated,” Fran said, but she, and others, felt this was something they could do to honor vets and show their appreciation. And the response from the vets has truly touched the women. “One man appeared in his uniform and saluted me,” she said. “It about made me melt on the spot.”
She said, “I’ve learned a lot because of this. I’ve learned about the Korean war.” She shook her head. “It was a real eye-opener… the conditions.” Then, she recounted a quilt recipient who reported freezing temperatures, losing his shoes, and fighting the remaining portion of the war in bare feet.
Fran and the others also spoke of one vet who takes his Hero Quilt with him everywhere he travels and keeps track of the miles the quilt has put on–always keeping them updated when he sees them.
Grace Honeycutt also told the story of a Hero Quilt she made. Many of the women also get together and exercise at the Fitness Center and once, their instructor asked for prayers for her father who was nearing the end of his life. Grace knew he was a WW II veteran and had a quilt completed that she felt strongly should go to him. “What’s his name?” she’d asked, so that she could go home and stitch his name onto a label that is affixed to each quilt: This quilt was made for an American Hero: Fred Tallent. She got the quilt to the daughter just a few days later who carried it down to the hospital. She later told Grace that she explained to her father what the quilt meant, put it over him, and he passed away shortly after. The family chose to display the quilt at the viewing. Grace couldn’t help but to tear up, as many women there did, recounting their interactions with the veterans.
It is truly an honor to have these women and their work represented in the Parkway Playhouse Quilt. Each year, the guild has a show during the Mount Mitchell Craft Fair for which they charge admission… This admission is one way they raise money to continue making Hero Quilts, so this year, take some time to wander in. Leave a donation, even one that is perhaps in excess of your entrance fee.
Did you know? Parkway Playhouse is a Blue Star Theatre — one who has had “a longstanding commitment to military personnel in their community.” For more information about what it means to be a Blue Star Theatre, click here.