Stitched from the heart
On a rainy afternoon in Gresham, a group of volunteer quilters gathered to present their colorful creations to four deserving, local veterans.
The Gresham branch of the Quilts of Valor hosted four veterans and their families Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 11, at their base of operation at Montavilla Sewing Centers, 971 N.E. Kelly Ave.
Honored at the gathering was Richard Bogges, who served three tours in Vietnam with the Navy; Carolyn Anderson, a Navy Corpsman; Clive "Mac" McVickor, who spent a decade as a Navy Corpsman; and Fred Shew, who was shipped to Vietnam three days before his 18th birthday.
"This is so great," Shew said. "It wasn't easy facing the reception coming home. This means a lot."
Each of the service members received a quilt that was crafted by the volunteers filling the room, as well as a hug from the grateful quilters.
"This is our civilian thank you for keeping us free and safe," said Murna Sparks, a member of Quilts of Valor who led the presentation ceremony.
Quilts of Valor is a national nonprofit organization with the goal of providing service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing quilts.
Every quilt given to a veteran represents a dedication from many different volunteers. There are those who make the blocks, which serve as decorative top piece of the quilt. Another quilter assembles the blocks to create the final pattern, before sending it on to another seamstress to stitch the various layers together with a longarm machine. Finally, volunteers bind the quilt, and make the label with the recipient's name and military branch.
The whole process usually takes anywhere from eight months to one year to complete.
"It's a puzzle, and when you get done putting the pieces together you have a quilt," Sparks said.
All of the quilts given are via request. There is a priority for World War II veterans or any that are sick or dying. Right now the Gresham group has more than 100 veterans on the waiting list for a quilt.
The Gresham branch is part of the Montavilla grouping of Quilts of Valor, which was formed in 2011. The club has a presence in multiple cities across the region, including Portland, Beaverton, Molalla, Vancouver and Wilsonville. In 2019, the Montavilla regional group completed 372 quilts.
"Seeing the end result of veterans so happy and appreciative makes it all worth it," said Lynda Lutz, the NW Oregon State Coordinator for Quilts of Valor.
Quilts of Valor was born of a mother's concern during her son's year-long deployment to Iraq in 2003.
Seaford, Del., resident and quilter Catherine Roberts had a dream that her son, Nathanael, was sleeping on a cold, hard cot. She wanted to provide comfort, and envisioned a brightly colored, warm quilt enveloping him. The next morning, Roberts reached out to her fellow quilters and began a lifelong mission of stitching quilts as tangible reminders of appreciation and gratitude to service members.
Now, Quilts of Valor are given to any military service members and veterans touched by war — regardless of the conflict.
The first quilt that Lutz made was for a serviceman close to her heart. Like many in the organization, she got involved because she wanted to make a quilt for her husband, who had served with the Army in Vietnam.
"It was wonderful to make, and he was very pleased with it," she remembered with a smile.
In Gresham, there are about 45 regular volunteer quilters in the group, and many stumbled upon it in similar ways to Lutz — drawn by the desire to create a nice keepsake for their neighbors who served.
"There is a lot of camaraderie amongst the group," Lutz said. "We are all working toward a goal to say, 'Thank you for your service.'"
Linda Houston has been a member for almost five years. She got involved after visiting a local garage sale. She started chatting with the homeowner about some fabric for sale, and learned of the organization in passing.
"I came in during the next gathering and was hooked," she said.
Murna Sparks has been with the group for eight years.
"I came in one day to give something to a friend and saw all these women sewing," Sparks said. "I asked, 'Can I come play?'"
She went back for the next gathering and the rest is history. Sparks and her cousin own a sewing business in Sandy called Studio B, Sewing with M&M, which operates as an eastern branch for Quilts of Valor.
One of the mantras of the group is to use every last scrap of donated materials. Often the cutaway pieces of fabric are given to enterprising members, who use them in their own creative projects. They also have all sorts of tools, devices and machines at their fingertips to make the best quilts possible.
The Gresham group meets the second Wednesday of every month at the Montavilla Sewing Center, 971 N.E. Kelly Ave. Their gatherings usually begin around 10 a.m. and run until 3 p.m., when the day is capped with a presentation of completed quilts to veterans.
For all members, the monthly sew-in gatherings are not only a chance to make significant progress on the many quilts the group creates, but also ann opportunity to socialize for the afternoon. Members love to share stories, chat about life updates and make each other laugh.
"Lynda is an absolutely incredible liaison for Quilts of Valor," Houston said. "She is wonderful and passionate."
The presentation ceremony is often emotional, as family members watch a public recognition of their loved ones who served. For some of the veterans, often those who served in Vietnam, the kindness and thanks was not always a given. During one of the most recent Gresham Quilts of Valor presentations, one veteran was touched by the gesture of receiving his quilt.
That veteran made a donation of $500 to support Quilts of Valor.
"He told us he was so moved by the ceremony, he wanted to ensure other veterans could receive one of their own," Lutz said.
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