More than a quilt
On a Monday morning, members of Crook County Quilts of Valor were busy sewing blocks of colorful and patriotic material for a number of quilts in various stages.
In addition to the intense concentration on their projects, it was obvious that they were enjoying their time together. An array of red, white and blue fabric in colorful patterns were visible at the stations of sewing machines — humming away in the Powell Butte Community Center.
Debbie Seiffert, who took the helm as the group's coordinator in 2019, explained the significance of the organization.
"I am so blessed to use my God-given love of quilting to honor my hometown veterans," Seiffert said.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation is a national non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. The Foundation's mission is to honor service members and veterans with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor, made by members of the quilting groups. QOVF was established in 2003 by a quilter named Catherine Roberts when her son was deployed to Iraq. Since that time, 286,178 Quilts of Valor have been awarded to veterans by chapters throughout the United States—and even around the world.
Crook County Quilts of Valor was established as a foundation in March 2017, and it has grown from four to 15 members, all of whom are volunteers. The materials are funded by donations from others in the community as well as members of the group. They currently meet every third Monday at Powell Butte Community Center.
"We do this because we love our veterans and want to honor them for their service," said Seiffert. "Our focus is Crook County because we have so many veterans, and unfortunately with a small group, we will never be able to make a quilt for them all."
Crook County Quilts of Valor has presented 133 quilts in the past four-and-a-half years. The majority of their presentations occur at the Thursday Band of Brothers meetings, but quilts have also been presented in homes and care facilities.
Ken Lawler and Nancy Eck are the two military veterans in the group. Eck is an Army veteran, and Lawler is a Navy veteran who spent nine years in military service. Lawle has been sewing since he was eight years old, having learned from his mother as a child. He did some quilting on his own, and in 2015, he received his own Quilt of Valor.
"I decided I had to sew with them, as I had been talking about sewing for some time," Lawler said.
Lawle is a member of both the Crook County Quilts of Valor and the Prineville Band of Brothers. He also serves in the Honored Guard with the Band of Brothers.
Another member, Patti Larson, has been with the group for four years. Her husband, father, and several uncles were all military veterans.
As for Seiffert, she grew up without ever experiencing any real aspects of military life. She had uncles and cousins and a half-brother who had served, but she always felt their service was far from her own daily life.
"I met my husband, David Seiffert, at Central Oregon Community College," Seiffert recollected. "He grew up in a military family, and his dad served in the U.S. Army for 28 years."
The couple were married in Prineville and shortly afterwards moved to Klamath Falls, so David could attend the Oregon Institute of Technology. It was at OIT that he joined ROTC and National Guard.
"This was the start of a life I really knew nothing about," Debbie Seiffert continued. "He graduated and went active-duty Army, and our family (now 2 boys) began our journey of many moves and experiences."
While stationed in Alaska the first time in 1997, Debbie began quilting with a wonderful group of individuals who shared her love of sewing.
"I learned so much and found out it was my passion and very therapeutic in dealing with everyday stress," Seiffert said of finding her passion in quilting.
David was deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006. Before he left, Debbie made him a patriotic quilt to take with him.
"I wanted him to have something from home to hold on to. I didn't realize the impact it would make until much later."
Debbie first heard of Quilts of Valor when her family moved to Fort Lewis, Washington, in 2009. Because of the impact that her own quilt had made on her husband when he deployed, she wanted to be a part of that group.
"I knew it was something I wanted to get involved in, but the nearest group was an hour drive and just didn't work for me," she noted. "I kept seeing brochures at quilt shows and events and thought, 'Maybe someday.'"
Debbie and David moved back to Prineville in 2015 and purchased land in Powell Butte to build their dream retirement home. She started getting involved in activities in the community and was approached to get involved in Quilts of Valor.
"I was excited to hear there was a group in Prineville," Debbie recalled. "I attended the group for a year. Then the group leader decided she needed to step down. I didn't want the group to fail, so in the midst of a house build — terrible timing, but important — I took over as the coordinator."
She also noted that her close ties to the military made this a cause close to her heart.
"My husband was career Army, retired after 23 years in the Army and I did his whole career with him," Seiffert recalled. "So, when I was asked to take on this group, I wanted to do just Crook County because those are my hometown vets. For me, doing the hometown vets was a real touching thing for me — and being in the military — the veterans are my family."
Debbie said that her first presentation of a Quilt of Valor was to Jay Jordan, a World War II veteran.
"I had a little WWII veteran walk up with his walker, set it aside and stand at attention while I gave my talk, tears welling up in his eyes," said Seiffert of the emotional presentation of her first quilt. "I never expected the impact it would have to award a quilt. I have had big, tough veterans in tears in front of me. I've been told by Vietnam veterans that the quilt was their first award or recognition since they came home from war."
"To us, it's a quilt—it's a blanket," she went on to say about how most view these pieces of fabric. "I have sewn for most of my life, and so to me, it changes the perspective because this piece of cloth is very powerful to somebody (who has served). The impact it makes — I was not prepared for it until I stood up there and presented these."
There were a number of stories connected to the Crook County Quilts of Valor shared by members of the group and family members of veterans who received a quilt.
One was presented to a veteran who was a nurse in the Army. In her final days, she requested that the quilt be buried with her.
"She actually requested a week before she died, she requested for herself to be buried with that that Quilt of Valor. The Quilt of Valor went in the casket with her, and she was buried with it. That was how important it was to her," emphasized Debbie.
Another was presented to Donald Tuter. After peacefully passing at his home, the Band of Brothers member and Korean War veteran was draped in his Quilt of Valor as he was transported to the funeral home. The quilt will be displayed at his celebration of Life service. His daughter, Carrie Bauer indicated that the quilt had meant a great deal to him.
"Yes, it did," added Bauer. "And to us as a family."
Bauer shared yet another story, explaining how a Quilt of Valor had also meant a great deal to her husband's grandfather.
"Dick Bauer hung his quilt on the wall behind his bed, as a focal point/headboard," Carrie said. "His quilt was displayed at his celebration of life."
The group will present their next Quilts of Valor at a December Band of Brothers meeting.
Crook County Quilts of Valor
Meeting third Monday of each month
10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Powell Butte Community Center
8494 S.W. Reif Road, Powell Butte
Contact: Debbie Seiffert
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