River Heritage Quilt Guild presents Quilts of Valor each year to area veterans

Tuesday, September 6, 2016
George L. Amick, Colonel, U.S. Army, received a Quilt of Valor from the River Heritage Quilt Guild. (Photo submitted by Donna Irwin)

As icons of Americana go, few are as immediately and deeply recognizable as a quilt. Though they may be crafted using any number of methods, all quilts are made with one common goal: to warm a loved one. That, says Mary Green of the River Heritage Quilt Guild in Cape Girardeau, is one of the ideas behind the Quilts of Valor project.

"We want to honor the veterans for their service to our country, and to ourselves," she says, "and a quilt is so meaningful, so personal."

Quilts of Valor is a nationwide project that began in 2003 when Catherine Roberts founded the Quilts of Valor Foundation, now headquartered in Winterset, Iowa. The local guild first got involved with this project in 2013, when they were contacted by Kevin Huffman, an active quilter in St. Louis, who described the mission statement and guidelines for participation with the project. Huffman assisted chairpersons Carla Kiefner, Donna Irwin and Green in organizing the first honorees and presenting the quilts in 2014, Green says.

"We're so thankful he was there," Green says. "After that first year, we realized, 'We can do this ourselves!' He agreed, and encouraged us to. So we stepped up to the plate, and we're still going strong."

They have since gifted 19 quilts to local veterans in recognition of their service.

Victor Breite, WWII U.S. Army, received a Quilt of Valor from the River Heritage Quilt Guild. (Photo submitted by Donna Irwin)

Any veteran of any branch of the military may be eligible to be honored with a quilt. A member of the River Heritage Quilt Guild may nominate a veteran of any age or gender, provided the veteran has seen active duty.

"We've done the quilt construction a couple different ways," Green says. "In the past, we've asked our members to donate an individual block, or the quilter who's done the nominating creates the quilt on his or her own."

The Quilts of Valor Foundation website (qovf.org) lists several suggested quilt-top patterns, but suggests a patriotic theme regardless of pattern used. The quilt top is submitted to the committee for approval no later than the guild's June meeting, and the quilts are presented at a special ceremony during the July meeting.

"The veterans are aware the quilt is being made for them," Green says. "We make sure to let them know they've been selected, and while some prefer not to relive their memories of their service, most of the people we've approached have been thrilled, truly honored."

Recipients have brought their families to the presentation, and "they're overwhelmed, their hearts are filled. The respect they're given by being honored with this quilt, they just love it," Green says.

Quilt of Valor honorees: Back row, left to right: Dennis Grass, U.S. Navy; Wayne Pressley, U.S. Navy; Michael Kirby, U.S. Navy; Jeff Oliver, U.S. Army; Lester Koelling, U.S. Marines. Front, left to right: Pastor Doug Breite accepting for his father, Victor Breite, WWII U.S. Army; Allen Leech Jr., U.S. Air Force. Not pictured: George Amick - Colonel, U.S. Army; and John Dragoni Sr., WWII Army/Air Force. (Photo submitted by Donna Irwin)

If a veteran is unable to attend the ceremony, the quilt may be awarded in another location, such as their personal residence or a retirement facility.

"We try to accommodate however we can," she says.

At the July 2016 meeting, Green's own brother, Dennis Grass, received a quilt she crafted for him, and she says that experience was touching and heartfelt.

"I asked him ahead of time, 'I'd like to do this for you -- would you be interested?' It was wonderful to be able to share this with him after his service to our country," Green says.

Quilts are made according to specific guidelines, which are available at the Quilts of Valor Foundation website. Quilts must be quilted either by hand or machine, for instance. No metallic fabric or thread are allowed, and use of fabric with a heavy floral pattern is discouraged.

John Dragoni Sr., WWII Army/Air Force, received a Quilt of Valor from the River Heritage Quilt Guild. (photo submitted by Carol Simon)

"We really work together to bring the best quilt together that we can," Green says, adding, "Quilters are resourceful! If there's any help we need from each other, any materials, we can usually get them one way or another."

To get involved, visit the River Heritage Quilt Guild website at www.riverquilters.org. Guests are welcome at the monthly meetings, which take place at the Cape Girardeau Senior Center every second Monday of the month. For more information on the Quilts of Valor Foundation, visit qovf.org.

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