Every Veterans Day, Pella Corp. in Carroll recognizes military veterans who are employed at the plant. But a few days after Veterans Day 2019, a surprise, extra thanks was in store for those veterans.
On their respective work shifts, they were called together and greeted by six members of the Southwest Iowa Scrappy Quilters, a group of volunteers who participate in the Quilts of Valor program.
They explained that program’s mission, which is “to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.”
The quilters then uncovered the quilts they created and brought to Carroll to present to the 32 military veterans employed at Pella in Carroll. Every veteran, no matter whether they served in conflict or not, received a quilt.
“I was blown away. I did not expect this,” said Jake Howard, of Carroll, who served in the Marine Reserves from 2001 to 2009, including two deployments in Iraq, and now is a woodshop operator for Pella.
“On one of our returns from Iraq, there were veterans there shaking our hands. I’ll always remember that feeling, that gratitude. It was very special,” Howard said. “And I felt the same way when I received that blanket. I just love those ladies. I’ll always remember it.”
The Quilts of Valor Foundation website showed on Dec. 31 that across the country the program’s groups had presented nearly 31,000 quilts this year. More than 240,000 quilts have been awarded since Quilts of Valor began operation in 2003.
Karen Hook, human resources assistant for Pella in Carroll, was on hand for the Southwest Iowa Scrappy Quilters’ presentation on Nov. 15.
She said the veterans all were very surprised and appreciative.
“And some were very emotional,” she said. “We heard a lot of nice compliments on how beautiful the quilts were. Lots of hugs.”
Howard said, “When you get a room full of veterans together, they can talk with each other without necessarily knowing each other. It’s just some kind of bond we have. I think we were all feeling the same (during the presentation) — shocked. It was an honor. It was great, very happy, full of love.”
In support of the Southwest Iowa Scrappy Quilters’ volunteerism for Quilts of Valor, the Pella Rolscreen Foundation last month awarded a $2,500 donation to the group. Hook and Carroll Plant Manager Jeff Heuton presented the donation to Carol Cox, who leads the Southwest Iowa Scrappy Quilters and hosts quilting sessions at a shop on her acreage between Shenandoah and Farragut, and fellow quilter Jennifer Golden.
Cox is a scheduler at the Pella plant in Shenandoah and will mark her 28th year with the company in March. Pella Rolscreen Foundation donations are available to Pella team members, retirees and their spouses who volunteer in non-paying roles. For every 20 hours volunteered during the calendar year, a $100 grant can be redeemed to a charity of the volunteer’s choice.
“So this helps out greatly in supporting us to be able to buy all the materials that go into making a quilt, which is fabric for the top and back of the quilts, batting and thread,” Cox said. “I am so grateful for this program. We have also received monetary donations from families of veterans as well.”
The Southwest Iowa Scrappy Quilters has presented 218 quilts to veterans — including those at Pella’s Carroll and Shenandoah plants — since joining the Quilts of Valor program five years ago.
Cox first learned about Quilts of Valor when she bought a Longarm quilting machine at an APQS road show in Omaha.
Cox recalled, “The (APQS) gentleman and his wife told me about Quilts of Valor. He said, ‘You should practice on quilt tops and make them for Quilts of Valor.’ I was curious about this organization, so got online and checked it out. There was no way I was going to practice on a quilt top and give it to a veteran. I needed to practice first.”
Cox noted that there were many Quilts of Honor groups in central and eastern Iowa, but none nearby on the west side of the state. So she started her group in August 2014.
Three years ago she had a 30-by-48-foot shop built on the acreage where she and her husband live. Volunteers from Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri gather there for workshop days to create quilts. Volunteers can help all kinds of ways.
“You don’t have to know how to sew to help out,” Cox pointed out. “You can press blocks for the members’ sewing, count fabric to make the kits, clip dog ears on blocks or jump stitches on a label, hand sew binding and labels on the quilts, machine sew binding on quilts, cut fabric, present a quilt to a veteran. … We have a laid-back group, and the workshops are fun-filled. You can come and work a couple of hours or work all day. Some members pick up quilt kits and work from home.
“When we are not having workshops, members are at home working on quilts. Once a year, I travel to Arkansas to a wholesaler to pick our material for the next year, depending on donations that we have received.”
The quilts made for veterans feature patriotic designs. The quilt Jake Howard received has a scrappy patriotic pinwheel design, including blocks with the Marine Corps emblem.
A label on the back of every quilt from the Southwest Iowa Scrappy Quilters thanks the veteran and lists the recipient’s name, branch of military and service highlights.
Quilts of Valor is a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
The reward, Cox said, is seeing how appreciative veterans are when they receive a quilt.
“Some are moved to tears or have told us this is so kind and generous, better than any award they have received,” she said. “The big hugs we get in return are the best. It just does your heart good.”
Howard initially used his quilt a few times but now has decided it will be a keepsake that he will display at home. His wife, Alisha, has an in-home day care, Lil’ Munchkins, and he has four children: Brady, 19, a 2018 Panorama High School graduate and a teacher’s assistant in Panora, along with Natalee, 9, Haylee, 7, and Gavin 5, all at home in Carroll.
“It’s special. I love it,” Jake said of his quilt. “I love looking at it. It’s something I’ll always remember and will pass on the story to my kids about the Quilts of Valor. It’s a wonderful quilt.”