Forest Grove nonagenarian sews dresses for Africa, Haiti
Everybody has a hobby. For you, it might be stargazing, or golf, or writing a blog. For Bernice Wegener, it's using almost 80 years of sewing know-how to make clothing for people in need.
Wegener, 93, lives at The Grove Assisted Living in Forest Grove in an apartment filled with colorful fabric and other sewing equipment. She keeps a folding card table, which she calls her "work table," in front of her couch.
Since 2011, Wegener has been sewing dresses for girls in developing countries. She has made more than 2,000, she said, most of them sent to orphanages in Africa. More recently, she is sending dresses to Haiti as well.
Wegener's labor of love started when she was recruited into the project by other women at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, she said. Their participation eventually dwindled, but, Wegener said, "I just kept on going, because I liked it. … I just love doing it."
Wegener has been sewing since she was in high school, she said, estimating she picked it up in 1940 or 1941. She makes several dresses at a time. Asked how long each one takes, she paused and gave a little shrug.
"I've never paid any attention to how long it takes," she admitted.
Wegener was actually thinking about stopping after some seven years of dress-making, she said. But when she received a fresh donation of fabric, she decided she had to keep going.
In fact, Wegener said, all of the fabric she uses is given to her for the project. People know she likes to sew for those in need, and they supply her in turn.
"I've never boughten any fabric," she said. "Never had to buy any. And when a lot of these women in church quit, they gave me all their supplies they had, too."
In addition to her dresses, Wegener has also sewn diapers out of T-shirts for babies and toddlers in Mexico.
Wegener never sells the clothing she makes, she said. It's all done for charity. Her niece helps her set up donations abroad, she added.
Wegener was born just outside Cornelius, grew up in the Forest Grove area and graduated from Forest Grove High School. She and her late husband spent several years in Juneau, Alaska, in the 1970s before moving back to Forest Grove. She moved into The Grove last March.
Center administrator Tom O'Daniels described Wegener as "a gem." She hasn't been a resident of The Grove for as long as many others, but O'Daniels joked that he wishes he had dozens more residents like her.
"She's just priceless," O'Daniels said.
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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