Quilting historically has provided a way to keep people warm, offered a creative outlet to women and served, upon occasion, as a means of protest or advocacy. For the La Plata Quilters Guild, celebrating its 30th anniversary this month, it also is a means to learn, raise money for community causes and reach out to those going through a hard time.
Members came together through love of the theater.
“We had such incredible artists involved in making quilts for the first performance of ‘The Quilters,’” Gail Schulz, a founding member of the guild, said about a play produced at Fort Lewis College in 1986. “When we started meeting and getting to know each other, there was such enthusiasm, creativity and sense of camaraderie and fun. People were so willing to share with others and to teach others. Friendships were made easily and have lasted these many years.”
For the production, they produced 16 4-foot by 4-foot quilts, which lived on in the Durango City Council Chambers for a long time afterward.
The women started the guild with about 26 members, and are up to 65 now.
And they started giving. Over the years, the guild has raised and given quilts and more than $100,000 to area nonprofits, including the Women’s Resource Center, Manna Soup Kitchen, Project Linus, La Plata County Humane Society, American Cancer Society, Womenade, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado, Durango Adaptive Sports Association, Ballet Folklórico de Durango and Tri-County Head Start.
“My most memorable memories have to include the small quilt auction chaired by Chris Pfeiffer,” said another founder, Pat Akers. “The guild would sponsor five charities, and I had the honor of picking two.”
The charities received the money raised from selling their designated quilt. Akers selected Country Kids with Cancer, which helped families who had to travel to Children’s Hospital in Denver for treatment, and Blue Star Mothers, an organization the guild is still involved with, which supports mothers who have children serving in the military.
“They needed funds to help fund the Gold Star weekend in northern Colorado for the parents of any KIAs (killed in action) from Afghanistan or Iraq,” Akers said.
She recalled an auction where Vickie Ezzell, and her daughter Janessa, who served in Iraq, made a quilt donated for the Gold Star weekend.
“The quilt went up for bid with a Blue Star mother bidding on it, when a person in the audience kept outbidding her,” Akers said. “When the bidding finally became more than she could bid, she stopped, disappointed, because she wanted that quilt for the parents of Sgt. Faith Renee Hinkley, Colorado’s first woman KIA just two weeks prior to the auction. She wanted this lovely quilt given to Faith’s parents.”
At the end of the auction, the man who won the bid gave the quilt to the Blue Star mother.
“His mother was a Gold Star wife from World War II,” Akers said, “and he was 2 years old when he lost his father.”
Akers continues to be involved in the Gold Star Mothers’ quilt project. For several years, the guild has donated about 120 quilts each year to the weekend, when those grieving a son or daughter lost while serving the country come together to share stories and be with others suffering the same kind of loss.
The guild, always paying attention to community needs, decided to give Gold Star quilts to the family of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, a Durango native and Blue Angels pilot who died in a crash June 2. They will include two small versions for his children, Calvin, 4, and Sloane, 1, said Holli Pfau, 30th anniversary celebration coordinator.
The group also makes lap quilts for local veterans receiving care at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albuquerque and about 20 each year for longer-term Hospice of Mercy patients.
“Something interesting happens when you’re making a quilt as a gift,” said Patty Joy, who chaired an exhibit at the Animas Museum for the anniversary. “It’s very freeing to try new creative approaches, because you’re not being judged, it’s being received with gratitude. We give part of ourselves to someone anonymous.”
Anyone who has stayed at Mercy Regional Medical Center may have experienced the guild’s generosity. They make 5,000 eye pillows a year to shut out the light and help patients relax. The hospital donates the millet and lavender filling, while guild members donate the fabric, time and expertise.
The small quilt auctions are a thing of the past – many quilts went for far less than they were worth, Pfau said. But each year, members design and sew one extraordinary quilt to raffle. It generally brings in about $5,000 for educational and philanthropic endeavors.
Members also have a show every other year and organize the quilt section at the La Plata County Fair, bringing in judges from the Front Range. Their workshops, classes and speakers are open to the public.
And they have taken math and sewing skills to the next generation with their Quilt on Geometry unit at Needham Elementary School.
“The creative energy brought to the guild by so many members was contagious,” Schulz said, “and inspired us all to try new things, learn new things, appreciate the specific artistry of individual members and step out of our comfort zone. We learned to be ambassadors of quilting to the community.”