Quilters sought for ambitious dream

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Iowa quilts will warm many grieving families Quilters are sought to fulfill ambitious dream By KEN FUSON Register Staff Writer 11/04/2001 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Varina, Ia. - They're not going to make it.

Look at the calendar - less than eight weeks to go. There's too much work to do, and not enough time to do it. Some dreams truly are impossible.

The idea was grand and over-the-top ambitious. Out in the middle of Iowa, in a rural area far from world events, Betty Nielsen and her friends wanted to do something memorable for the grieving families of those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

They decided to give a patchwork quilt to each of the families - more than 4,000, including the four people who have died from anthrax inhalation. "They're victims, too," Nielsen says.

And she hopes to deliver all those quilts by Christmas.

Nielsen and her friends are realistic. They can't sew that many quilts by themselves. Each one takes as many as 30 hours to complete. They will need help.

To be precise, they will need a miracle.

"This is going to be impossible, I know, unless we can get the word out," Nielsen says. "You know, Des Moines is a big city, right? You can't tell me there's not people there who know how to quilt. I'm hoping we can get ladies from other states, too. If the word gets around and enough ladies will care enough, we can do this."

Until now, the biggest project Nielsen had commanded was organizing a confirmation class for youngsters at her church. She's a 48-year-old mother of two grown children who farms 900 acres of corn and beans with her husband, Dennis, in Pocahontas County. The nearest town is Varina, population 90.

What's more, she's a rookie quilt-maker, having sewn two by herself.

So what, exactly, gives Betty Nielsen the notion that she can organize and deliver more than 4,000 quilts by Christmas?

"I had to do something," she says.

Like millions of Americans, Nielsen watched in horror Sept. 11 as the World Trade Center towers crumbled and as hijacked planes crashed into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. She felt an overwhelming desire to help, but she was out in the middle of Iowa, far from most world events.

She had donated blood.

She gave money to four different charities.

She still wasn't satisfied. She's a former sergeant in the Air Force. That's how she met her husband. They were patriotic long before Sept. 11.

"I just felt like I wasn't doing enough," she says.

And then she thought of quilts.

"I guess I thought of Christmas," she says. "The way I look at it, these families are going to have a loved one gone. I thought maybe a quilt would give them a little warmth, a little caring, to let them know that people love and care for them."

Nielsen called her friend Pat Archer of Albert City, and explained her crazy idea.

" "Why not?" is what I thought," Archer says. "I don't know how far we'll get. But why not?"

Archer knows exactly how good it feels when strangers reach out to offer comfort during times of loss. Three years ago, her older brother, Tom, 46, and another volunteer member of the Albert City Fire Department were killed when a propane tank exploded.

Archer's heart aches for the families of the New York City firefighters because she knows what they're going through. She told Nielsen to count her in.

They called their friends at the Catholic and Methodist churches in Varina. The town is so small that church members join forces for dinners and other projects.

"When she starts talking, they don't turn her down," Jo Schumann says of Nielsen. "She doesn't let it go. You've got to do it. "No" is not in her vocabulary."

That's how Nielsen's farm home turned into a quilt-making factory last week. Nielsen and Archer cut pieces of cloth. Norma Gehrig and Bernetta Pudenz worked the sewing machines. Mavis Schumann pinned pieces together, and her sister-in-law, Jo Schumann, ironed patches of cloth, called blocks. Twenty red, white and blue blocks form a quilt.

If nothing else, the women say, the work makes them feel better.

"Those poor people have had so much sorrow, they'll know that other people care about them," Gehrig says.

Nielsen holds up one finished block.

"This little baby has 72 triangles," she says proudly.

The quilts are beautiful, with some of the blocks containing inspirational photographs that have been ironed into the cloth. Some contain the words to the Pledge of Allegiance. One says God Bless America.

Nielsen and her friends plan to make five quilts. A woman in Laurens has agreed to sew four of them.

That still leaves at least 3,995 for others to do.

"I don't care," Nielsen says. "The Lord's inspiring me. One way or another, we're going to get it done."

Look at how much has happened already, she says. A stranger agreed to organize a Web site for the project. A church group in Pocahontas agreed to make three quilts. Another group, in Fonda, said it would contribute several more. Nielsen says 4-H clubs and other area community organizations have shown interest. She promises to supply patterns and encouragement to anyone who contacts her.

She wonders: If two churches in an Iowa town of 100 people can produce five quilts on short notice, who's to say what's impossible?

Nielsen sent e-mails to Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh and the hosts of "The View," hoping they would mention the quilt-making project. She hasn't heard anything, "but they're very busy."

"I'm just a beginner at this," Nielsen says. "Everybody wonders why I would take on a big project like this. Usually when I do something, I guess I do it big."

Nationally, other groups, from Vermont to California, have embarked on quilt-making projects for families of the victims. Some are designed to raise money for charity. Others are targeted for specific groups, like the children of the firefighters who died.

"I don't want to do it for charity," Nielsen says. "I want to do it for the families."

She says her friends may join forces with other national groups that have the same goal. Until then, she has written to various officials in Iowa and New York about distributing the quilts to families. If she has to, Nielsen vows, she will drive to New York and hand them out herself.

"I guess I thought if somebody would give me something like that, I would treasure it," she says. "That would give somebody something to look at and say, "You know, this country is great. There's people who don't even know me, and they are making something special for me." "

Nielsen has an image locked in her mind. It's Christmas morning, and a little boy or girl who has lost a loved one is curled up in a red-white-and-blue quilt, made by strangers who live out in the middle of Iowa.

"It's not much, but it's a little comfort," she says. "We can do this. I know we can."

She's waiting for your call.

More about it IOWA: Betty Nielsen can be reached at (712) 288-5328. Her e-mail address is debeniel@ncn.net. Her Web site address is: www.members.aol.com/gethapy/patchwork.html

OTHERS: For more information on quilt-making projects related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, go to:


-- beckie (sunshine_horses@yahoo.com), November 04, 2001


I made a quilt, with love, and delivered it to Betty to meet her deadline. Yesterday I recieved the most wonderful letter from the recipient of my donation. Of course, I wept as I read the three page account of how her life has changed forever. I really didn't expect to ever know where the quilt went, but I guess secretly I had hoped to hear from someone. And now I am inspired to make another quilt to meet the second deadline in April. This has been the most satisfying project of any I have done and if anyone is thinking about the project, just do it. You will always be satisfied with yourself for having to have brought a

little comfort to someone grieving for their dearest.

-- Judith Duffin (carpediem-tj@webtv.net), January 01, 2002.

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