Local retired teacher Mary Soliz sets up a mask-making area in her living room

HOLLY SCHOLZ/MADRAS PIONEER - Mary Soliz' mask pattern has evolved to feature nose grips, adjustable straps and even school mascots.

Mary Soliz is a gift – a real community treasure.

That's how her co-worker and friend Rosalynn Jaeger describes her.

Jaeger says the retired Madras teacher quietly volunteers hundreds of hours to the community in the form of blankets, craft nights, food and gifts for veterans and those less fortunate, and even blood.

But her most recent project involves fat quarters, pipe cleaner and thread.

At last count, Soliz has made and donated 423 face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"She is a master seamstress," Jaeger said. "She has done a really nice job with all of her masks, and none of them have been sold. They've all been a donation."Soliz recalls how she got started on the mask-making project last March.

"When we closed up for the pandemic, I was hearing on the news that hospitals were in need of masks," Soliz shares.

The virus had caused a mask shortage across the globe. Soliz learned that St. Charles Health System needed masks for employees and patients. St. Charles posted a pattern on its website, asking people to use supplies they had at home to make face coverings with a pocket for filters.

"It was pleated with the straps. Of course, at that time, finding elastic was practically impossible," Soliz said. "So, that's how I got started, but needless to say, hospitals have not gotten one mask from me."

Using fabric she had in her personal stash, Soliz set up her ironing board and sewing machine in her living room and followed the pattern St. Charles had posted. She made about 20 pleated masks with ties.

Then she got word that her nephew and his family in Colorado were in need of masks.

"Colorado was one of the bigger-hit states at the time, and Colorado had a mandate that they could not leave their homes without masks," Soliz said. "His mom, my sister, called me and said, 'Sis, can you make some masks?' I said, 'Well, I have some made.'"

She quickly mailed off some of her first masks.

Then she realized that her niece, who also lives in Colorado, would need masks.

After that, it "snowballed." She has two sisters in Arizona, and they were soon required to wear masks.

Her family then began putting in their orders. She made 10 to 15 masks for different family members and shipped them off.

"Since then, I've just been making masks," Soliz said.

HOLLY SCHOLZ/MADRAS PIONEER - Mary Soliz has made hundreds of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her first masks were pleated with ties because elastic was not available.Once elastic became available and fabric stores opened for business, she bought more supplies and found various mask patterns and styles. Most of her masks have nose grips, interfacing and adjustable straps.

She's made Arizona Cardinals masks, Star Wars masks, school mascot masks, Dallas Cowboys masks and masks all colors of the rainbow.

She's made masks for local friends, friends of her siblings, friends of her nieces and nephews. She sent 60 masks for her niece, who is a school principal in Colorado, to give to her staff. She sent 20 to her cousin in Texas.

Soliz is a member of the Madras VFW Auxiliary, where they were asked to make masks for a veterans home in Roseburg.

"They wanted the ones with the loops. Of course, by that time, you could find elastic again, so I made 50 for them," she said.

She eventually brought her Cricut cutting machine and EasyPress out to the living room and began adding iron-on transfers to some of the masks. She's making her 12-year-old great-nephew six black and red masks that feature a hawk – his school mascot – for when he's able to return to the classroom. Each one of the more detailed masks takes about an hour to complete, although she makes them in batches.

Before she began mass producing masks, Soliz enjoyed hosting craft nights for her school district co-workers. She makes baby and fleece blankets for teen parents, veterans and others in need. Each Christmas, she gives gifts to a local family through DHS. She'll give food and water to the hungry and has even helped a family purchase gas on their way through the area.

Soliz was born in Texas and moved to Nyssa in Eastern Oregon when she was seven. She attended a community college before graduating from Oregon State University. She then moved to Warm Springs, where her brother lived, for her student teaching stint. She has called Jefferson County home ever since – that was 40 years ago.

She has taught second, third and fourth grade at Warm Springs, Madras and Buff elementary schools. She "retired" after 37 years but went back to work for Jefferson County School District as an instructional coach and most recently as a math and reading student assessment test coordinator.

Not only that, she taught religious classes to scores of students at St. Patrick's Catholic Church. She often donates blood to the Red Cross, gives food to local pantries, donates school supplies, helps veterans through the VFW Auxiliary, and raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

And lately, she's been gifting masks to keep people safe from the virus.

"It just makes me feel good to do it and to know that people are needing them and are using them," Soliz said.

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