Apr 29, 2019
For the past 50 years, the members of St. John’s Sewing Group have been coming together to make the world a little warmer place, crafting hundreds of blanket quilts each year for donation.
The quilts travel near and far, with a majority of them sent across the globe as part of Lutheran World Relief’s charity efforts. “They go to refugee camps, places where there’s been a natural disaster. They’re used by people in need, who basically have nothing,” said group member Jan Delvallee, whose mother Marie Cleer was one of the founding members of the sewing group when it started in November 1969.
A portion of the quilts the group makes each year are also donated to local charitable groups and individuals, such as the Illinois Veterans Home at La Salle, PADS homeless shelter and others in need in the area.
Tuesday mornings year round, the St. John’s church hall is transformed into a quilting factory. Huge shelves of supplies — yarn, fabric, thread and other essentials — are rolled out to line the center of the room. Volunteers cluster around their table work stations, each completing a different part of the assembly-line process. It’s efficient, and the distribution of labor ensures that each member can find a task at their skill level, from cutting out squares of fabric to sewing to tying together the final products.
“Everybody has their little niche,” said group leader Carole Wenzel, who has been a part of the group for the past “25-30” years. “Everybody has their liking of what to do.”
The group doesn’t just help those in need of a blanket – it also helps the members.
“It’s dual purpose. We’ve found that with the fellowship we have here, not only are we doing good for people in need, we’re helping each other — with moral support,” Delvallee said.
Loretta Schrowang of rural Granville has been a member of the group since she retired as a teacher in 1998. Last Tuesday she was working with fellow former teachers Sharon Leppin of La Salle and Joan Rowney of rural Marseilles at a station combining layers of the quilts.
“I enjoy sewing and I enjoy the company. I think it’s a worthwhile project,” Schrowang said. “It makes you feel good that we’re helping someone.”
For Rowney’s part, being a member of the St. John’s Sewing Group is a family tradition. Both her mother and father, Leroy and Marie Heusel participated as members of the group over the years. Her dad started helping with Monday set-ups before eventually working his way to sewing quilts.
“That was their joy on Tuesdays,” said Rowney, who has been a part of the group for around a decade since retirement.
Leppin said she started volunteering for the group about five years ago after the passing of her husband. “Since I’ve retired I like to try to make a difference in people’s lives, and this was a good opportunity to do that. It’s good for socialization and it gives me a schedule,” Leppin said.
Membership in the group is not limited to parishioners of St. John’s. “More and more, it’s not just members of our church. It’s people from the community who come join us. So it’s not just our church, it’s ecumenical,” Delvallee said.
Wenzel said all are welcome, regardless of skill level. “(All you need is) to have a desire to create things with God’s hands and give them to needy people,” she said.
The group’s supplies are donated, and they’re always on the lookout for sheets, curtains, fabric and yarn for the quilts, Wenzel said. Donations can be dropped off at the church, 2000 Luther Drive, Peru.
The group will display several hundred of the past year’s worth of quilts on the pews of the church sanctuary the weekends of May 11-12 and 18-19, before they are shipped off around the Illinois Valley and the world.
It’s a fitting sendoff for all of the work and dedication the group has put in over the past 12 months.
“All the ladies that are here, it’s a passion,” Wenzel said. “They just love doing it.”
Chris Yucus can be contacted at (815) 220-6934 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NT_ChrisYucus