One military mother’s vivid dream has inspired volunteers across the nation to sew more than 230,000 quilts that have been awarded to service members and veterans. Meeting the local chapter of this national foundation, the River Valley Stars, reveals how that is possible.
Founder Catherine Roberts’ son was serving in Iraq when she dreamed two distinct scenes. The first was of a returned serviceman, sleepless and despairing in a dark night. Then, she saw him wrapped in a quilt, feeling hope and well-being. Her interpretation was “quilts equal healing.”
The River Valley Stars are local women who took up Roberts’ mission “to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.” These lively quilters are wildly productive. Together, they have made and presented 47 quilts over a little more than a year and are working on a list of 30 more they’ve volunteered to create.
Over coffee, the busy, pleasant circle of women talked about their quilts. They don’t accept any credit amongst them, and they do finish each other’s stories, as good friends do. They’re a lot of fun to talk with and stay very upbeat. But in recalling some of their experiences, they admit the reactions of the recipients can be touching; even unforgettable.
One vet of Afghanistan was “ambushed” by his family, who had requested the quilt. The Stars hid in a hallway and stepped out at the right time. After receiving his quilt, the women noticed him secretly wiping away tears with it.
At another surprise presentation at a restaurant, the Stars had made three quilts for three members of one family – veterans of Vietnam, the Air Force and Iraq. It was Veterans Day and other vets dining there took notice.
Although each quilt has a personalized, embroidered label, “these three were trying to give their own quilts away to other vets,” the Stars remembered. “We had to stop them from giving away the quilts with their own names on them.”
Paul Lux, who lives at Mercy Crest, was placed on the quilt request list by his grandson and greatest admirer, Shawn Johnson. Any request starts from the national foundation’s website and is sent to a state chapter, from where the local River Valley Stars volunteered to make his quilt.
Mr. Lux sped expertly into the Mercy Crest conference room in his red, sporty mobile chair last month – at the age of 102, he’s a great driver. His family looked on proudly as he beamed at the quilters and audience of applauding staff members.
Sue Anderson of the Stars recited the Quilt of Valor presentation speech, honoring his service, thanking him for it and wishing him comfort from his quilt. Lux admired the bright quilt wrapped around his shoulders. “Oh, mercy!” he quipped appreciatively. His was a happy day.
These moments are reward enough for the Stars, they insist.
“We’re a group – that’s why we sign River Valley Stars and not our names,” a member said. Up to four pairs of hands may have contributed to one quilt; two may make blocks, one may do the border and one of their two members who own long-arm sewing machines do the quilting. The group does not want any individual acknowledgement, but are quick to praise a member who once made 16 quilts herself and another who made a dozen to present Quilts of Valor for an entire unit at a reunion. In November, the Stars will present eight or nine quilts to one Greenwood group. Each quilt will be different.
The variety astounds. Almost all of them contain red, white and blue.
“We don’t repeat!” is the design motto of the Stars. The group considers itself lucky to have two “long-armers” who produce the elaborate stitching patterns of the quilting. Their programmable, long-arm machines can render lettering or any conceivable ornamentation – and their operators see that they do. The “tops” are equally attractive in traditional and invented patterns.
When they commit to fulfill a request, the Stars may already be halfway through a quilt or have a temporary stockpile. Quilts are given in order of scheduled presentations, so they are not created for a specific individual. However, a little match-making can happen because they’ve sometimes made quilts with the theme, colors or symbols that fit a particular person.
The patterned fabrics can have unusual motifs such as farm life with patriotic accents, an example in the Stars current stack. Combined with American flag colors, it’s entirely suitable to reflect a veteran’s background and service – especially for many people of our region. Fabric mills introduce new patriotic styles every year and sometimes make donations of material to the Quilts of Valor organization.
Obviously, all the Stars love the art of quilting. They gather for “sew days” at a member’s home once a month. It’s a potluck snack day and all chime in to say it’s fun. But they never lose sight of the people for whom they sew.
Along with their time, the Stars themselves are the donors of the fabric, batting and thread for each quilt they give away. Donations are welcomed, but should be made through the national, nonprofit Quilts of Valor Foundation website, qovf.org.
Read Paul Lux's story after the slideshow, below.
October’s presentation of a quilt to World War II Army veteran Paul Lux was one of many such ceremonies the River Valley Stars have given. Although they recite the same dedication each time, each quilt is as unique as each special person who receives it.
Lux, 102, joined the Army in 1939 “to get off the farm,” at Subiaco, Ark., he said with a laugh. He was stationed to protect the Panama Canal in 1940. Lux recorded his memories in an oral history video, which can be viewed at the website arkansasag.gov.
His unit went to the European theatre in 1944 where they staged in England and rolled through Paris on Christmas Day. After one snowy night in Belgium, he woke to find he had slept beside a dead German soldier. He had a near miss when the Nazis shelled his mess truck, leaving a deep crater. Lux recalls his war experience with humor and affection for his brothers-in-arms, telling stories of pranks and fun, downplaying the danger they faced.
Gen. Patton? “He came through my kitchen. We rubbed shoulders,” he said. “I had a lot of fun in the Army.” He remains as good-natured and positive.
Lux sent most of his Army pay home to his mother, Ann, who secretly saved it for him. Back in Subiaco, he courted and married Ann Seiter. His mother gave him his Army savings as a wedding gift. They had six children. He remains devoted to his Catholic faith and his family, all of whom clearly respect and adore him.
Present at the quilt presentation were his daughters Janie Sharum and Mary Sever; her husband, Lenny; Stars quilter Marcia Beat and Lux’s grandson, Shawn Johnson. (pictured in slideshow.