Most of the women learned how to sew doll clothes and simple garments a half century ago and today makes stitches to honor war veterans.
About a dozen sewing machines hum, fingers stitch, and shades of red, white and blue material scraps are cut to size in a side room at the Mt. Juliet Senior Activity Center. Women of a certain, beautiful age gather each Friday for several hours to stitch together patriotic Quilts of Valor to wrap veterans in a heroic hug for their service.
Joan Giltner oversees the last of a dozen quilts the group will gift this month to veterans who are senior center members. A former big-time project manager, Giltner, 64, is one of the youngest in the center’s Quilt Club. She joined the club in 2014 after she moved to Mt. Juliet in 2012.
“My mom was a seamstress,” Giltner said. “She taught me to sew. But, I had not sewn in years. I like quilt making because it combines project management, engineering and art.”
She took a class at a fabric store to get the hang of quilting.
“I always liked jigsaw puzzles and figuring out how pieces go together,” she said. “That’s what quilting is.”
One quilt that led Giltner to the senior center’s club was one she made for Chris and Kate Waggoner who previously owned CrossFit of Mt. Juliet. Both are Marine veterans.
“I made each a Marine T-shirt quilt,” Giltner said. “I had never made a T-shirt quilt. They gave me a box of their T-shirts. I ended up making them several, very special quilts.”
When Giltner heard about the Quilts of Valor Foundation she said she knew it would be a valuable project for the club’s eight regular members who range in age from 64 to 90.
It is a national organization founded in 2003 by “Blue Star” mom Catherine Roberts. With a son deployed in Iraq Roberts said she had the idea of comforting veterans with quilts.
Today the organization has grown to thousands of volunteers across the United States. As of this month, the organization has awarded over 323,500 Quilts of Valor in the United States, Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Joining Quilts of Valor
In 2016, the quilt club members made lap quilts for veterans at the Tennessee State Veterans’ Home in Murfreesboro. Giltner said two of her three brothers sent her money to buy material to make the lap quilts. Then she made a quilt for each brother.
“One asked me if the one I made for him was a Quilt of Valor,” said Giltner. “I never heard of that and started researching. I loved the whole idea.”
She registered the senior center’s Quilt Club for the project in 2019 and the small group of ladies have been stitching patriotic quilts ever since. One of the first recipients was senior center member and Navy veteran Robert Mastro. When they completed the quilt, they presented it to Mastro, who has since died, at his home.
The quilt has a label that says, “Quilt of Valor” with the date, pieced and quilted by the Mt. Juliet Senior Activity Group, block pattern name and quilt pattern description. The label also says, “Thank you for your service and sacrifice.”
The senior center has provided a ceremony and official presentation of a Quilt of Valor for eight senior center members. Giltner has also pieced together five more for veterans in her family. Several of the quilts won ribbons at this summer’s Wilson County Fair.
“The ceremonies are just overwhelming and heartwarming,” said Giltner. “It’s giving back to people who gave so much in service.”
Some patriotic time
Soon to be 91, Quilt Club member Elaine Humble, a retired Mt. Juliet teacher, joined the club some time ago. She said her son-in-law is a Vietnam War veteran and she loves coming each week to help piece together the quilts.
“The material for these quilts is donated from as far away as Florida,” she said. “When people hear about the project, they just fall in love with the idea.”
Georgia Mitchell was in front of a sewing machine on a recent Friday, sewing together big royal blue squares of material for a future quilt.
“I started sewing decades ago, making clothes for my dolls,” she said while stitching. “When I joined this group, I didn’t know about Quilts of Valor. It was a welcomed surprise. I admire what this project is all about and it’s so nice to honor our veterans.”
This past March, Janet Steen joined the group. She said she’s been sewing since her teens, even in her 4-H Club.
“It started out to be an outlet, for socialization and sewing, but this has turned into so much more,” she said.
In what’s a sort of assembly line production (with lots of chatter and laughter), Yvonne DeGennaro sits at the end of the table pinning triangles of cloth together. She doesn’t even have to look at the small pile of pins with beaded tops a few inches away to pick one up without so much a prick.
“I usually am the presser,” she said with a smile. “But this is my duty today. I love working on patriotic quilts in a group setting. I was part of the Italian American War Veterans Group for 37 years and am carrying this forward. I’ve been to some of the quilt presentation ceremonies and it pulls the heart strings and is impressive.”
DeGennaro, along with the other ladies, said they feel proud to have a hand on working with the quilts.
“When the veterans receive one, made especially just for them, there are tears in their eyes,” said DeGennaro.
All are welcome to join the Quilt Club at the Mt. Juliet Senior Activity Center. It is located at 2034 N. Mt. Juliet Rd. near Division Street and meets on Fridays. For more information call (615) 758-9114