Every veteran upon induction receives a military-style wool blanket. It comes in handy for a variety of uses, mostly keeping warm.
Wallowa Mountain Quilters Guild is working hard to make sure every veteran in the county has an opportunity to relive that experience. This time the blanket is a finely appointed quilt made by guild members.
Ten quilts were distributed during a ceremony and dinner Oct. 15 at the VFW Hall in Enterprise. Around 60 quilts have been awarded under what the guild calls its Quilts of Honor Program. The group opted not to participate in the national Quilts of Valor program because of rules as to who qualified.
“We want every veteran to receive a quilt,” said Linda Koloski, chairman of the project, who serves along with Barbara McCormack and Bobbie Thomson. By one estimate, there are 1,000 veterans in the county.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Koloski quipped.
In addition to honoring vets, the program is designed to raise the profile of the guild and the art of quilting.
Around 30 women regularly participate in guild projects, but numbers can swell to 50 for special events. The organization recently held its 25th Annual Quilt Show.
Koloski points out there are many more quilters in the county, but not all of them want to meet on a regular basis.
The guild also contributes awards for quilters at the county fair, provides quilt books for public libraries, offers educational opportunities by sponsoring speakers and teachers and volunteers quilt-making skills for community projects.
The process of constructing the quilts for veterans begins with the selection of a pattern, usually undertaken at a regular guild meeting.
“Someone presents a block and we ask people to take a copy of the pattern and do it up mostly in red white and blue.”
Once the individual blocks are sewn together, they are given to Hope McLaughlin of Enterprise, a nonagenarian with decades of quilting experience.
McLaughlin adds a washable polyester batting –– a filler material to give the quilt heft. A backing is the final step. She is paid a modest fee for her work.
The quilts are produced in a variety of sizes, the smaller ones designed more as lap quilts, Koloski said.
“The red, white and blue themes are designed to set the veteran quilts apart from everything else we do,” said Koloski.
Larger quilts are as big as 80x100-inches. Some have borders added to make them even bigger.
“These are made to be used, not hung on the wall,” Koloski added.
Finding veterans to receive quilts is more of a challenge than one might think, Koloski says.
“Most of it is by word of mouth,” she said, noting that there is little access to Veteran’s Administration records for such projects.
During a recent visit to the Chieftain, Koloski noticed an older gentleman entering through the front door wearing a veteran’s hat. She signed him up.
She has found other recipients sitting in the waiting room at the hospital or in the physical therapy clinic. Her husband, Mike, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, is active with the VFW and assists with the process.
One of the highlights for guild members is experiencing the reactions of the veterans during quilt presentations.
“I’ve made a special effort to take as many other members to the presentations so they can see that response,” Koloski said. “These veterans are very proud of their service and tickled pink to be acknowledged.”
The guild attempts to honor the older veterans first “before they’re gone,” Koloski said. The recent awards ceremony included three members of the Roberts family who are Vietnam-era veterans.
“Every time we make a presentation, we get more names,” Koloski said.
Additional names are always welcome.