|Local organizations team up to honor veterans with patriotic quilts
BRETT LEIGH DICKS, NEWS-PRESS correspondent
As the chatter of sewing machines echoed through Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care’s Eastside headquarters, a pile of red, white and blue quilts grew in size.
With the chill of winter finally descending upon Santa Barbara County and Veterans Day fast approaching, the Coastal Quilters Guild of Santa Barbara and Goleta’s recent quilt-making workshop was particularly timely.
There were quilts adorned with American flags, symbols representing the various branches of the military, and hearts made from stars and stripes. The beneficiaries of the quilts will be local veterans in Visiting Nurse’s hospice care program. As more quilts were added to the pile, the members were well on their way to their goal of 75 by Veterans Day on Wednesday.
“We’re currently at 65, so we’re getting very close to our target,”said Carol Barringer, 66, chair of the guild’s community quilts committee, as she toured the News-Press through the makeshift studio on a recent day. “The community quilts committee is the charity arm of the guild and every year we support at least one if not several different nonprofit organizations.
“We’ve made quilts for children with cancer, low-income seniors … this year, we’re making quilts for Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care to give to their veterans.?
Last year, the guild made a series of non-themed quilts for Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care patients; among them were a handful made from red, white and blue material. They caught the eye of Arlene Stepputat, Visiting Nurse’s manager of volunteer services, who directed those quilts toward veterans in the nonprofit’s care.
Visiting Nurse is a community partner of the We Honor Veterans program, a collaboration between various national hospices and palliative care organizations and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that supports veterans near the end of life. As part of the program, Visting Nurse conducts local pinning ceremonies to recognize and celebrate the contributions made by veterans in their care.
“I was there when the quilts were handed over last year,”Ms. Barringer said. “I’m a former marine and Arlene had found out about my service and came up to me and did an impromptu pinning ceremony. She got down on her knee and thanked me for my service. That really did something in my heart.?
A commuter programmer at Marine Corps headquarters in Arlington, Va., during the Vietnam War, Ms. Barringer was so touched by Ms. Stepputat’s dedication to the veterans within the hospice care program that she started making a red, white and blue quilt for the organization.
As other members joined her in making patriotically themed quilts, with the support of the guild, Ms. Barringer instigated a series of workshops to make more.
“Along with the pinning, we also give the veterans a certificate with their name and the logo of whatever branch of the military they served, and now we give them a quilt, too,”Ms. Stepputat, 61, said. “My goal is to honor every veteran and the pinning ceremonies are a very meaningful way to do that.?
A team of quilters has been working on the veterans project since June, cutting, pinning, sewing and adding binding to quilts of various sizes.
On a recent Saturday morning, about 10 guild members gathered at Visiting Nurse for the last of three day-long quilting workshops. The quilters spent the entire day pinning fabric and hunched over sewing machines, adding to the impressive pile of completed quilts.
The quilts range in size from 40 inches by 40 inches to around 60 inches by 85 inches, which is large enough to cover a twin-size bed. One of the first quilts was given to the husband of a guild member who reported back that the quilt, which was 45 inches by 60 inches, was the perfect size because it covered him in bed and wasn’t too wide for use in his wheelchair.
Ms. Barringer said there is no template for the design of the quilts.
“Designs and patterns come from everywhere: books, magazines, published patterns,”she said. “I have a 3-inch binder full of them that can be altered to suit the maker’s preference or the materials available.?
While the guild has staged workshops specifically dedicated to crafting the veterans quilts, members have also been working on quilts at home. It is an intricate process where even the simplest of designs can take more than a week to complete. But every stitch is appreciated.
Homer Smith, a longtime Visiting Nurse volunteer, was a recent recipient of a pinning ceremony and quilt. Born in Akron, Ohio, Mr. Smith graduated with honors from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963. He earned a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering with a minor in nuclear engineering and upon graduation was stationed on a ship home ported in Yokosuka, Japan. He then joined the Civil Engineer Corps, which took he and his wife, Jean, to the Philippines, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Puerto Rico, Guam, Spain and Italy before retiring from service in 1990.
In 1999, the couple moved to Santa Barbara, where Mr. Smith worked as the principal engineer for the city of Santa Barbara, served as commodore of the Santa Barbara Yacht Club and volunteered in Visiting Nurse’s Vets 2 Vets program, where he was paired with hospice patients who also served the country.
Mr. Smith passed away on Oct. 11 at the age of 74. As Mrs. Smith recently sat on a couch in the couple’s Riviera home with a quilt adorned in a matrix of American flags sprawled behind her, she took time to share with the News-Press what it means to her.
“It’s very special because it’s not only very beautiful and has the flag, but it’s trimmed with blue and gold, which are the colors of the Naval Academy,”Mrs. Smith, 72, said with a smile. “I’ll wrap myself up in it this winter. Everyone’s coming for Thanksgiving and the memorial service, so I’m sure the grandkids will wrap themselves up in it too.
“The quilt means a lot to us. The service was a big part of Homer’s life and the quilt will be a great way to help the grandchildren understand what it means to be a veteran.?
The Coastal Quilters Guild of Santa Barbara and Goleta is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating its members about the history and preservation of the art of quilt making. Yearly membership is $35. For more information, visitwww.coastalquilters.org.
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Participants in the Coastal Quilters Guild of Santa Barbara and Goleta’s recent veterans quilt workshop included, from left, Arlene Stepputat, Diana Iler (seated), Nellie Mendoza, Mary Ringer, Carol Barringer, Ilona Varner, Bonnie Epperson (seated), Linda Boynton de Sepulveda, Linda Kriss and Barbara MacCallum. Below, all the quilts are patriotically themed.
BRETT LEIGH DICKS / NEWS-PRESS P
Jean Smith displays a patriotically themed quilt that was recently given to her late veteran husband, Homer. At left, the quilts range in size from 40 inches by 40 inches to around 60 inches by 85 inches.