Honoring Veterans One Quilt at a Time

Jan Martin began her service to veterans straight out of college in 1974 as a registered nurse at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia. She then worked in VA hospitals in Tucson, Arizona, Long Beach, California, and San Antonio, Texas, before returning to Columbia following her husband’s deployment to Saudi Arabia in 1990.

In 2008, she learned about the Quilts of Valor Foundation (QOVF). The mission of QOVF is to cover all service members and veterans touched by war with handmade quilts called Quilts of Valor. Quilts of Valor, according to QOVF founder Catherine Roberts, “are stitched with love, prayers and healing thoughts.” American troops are awarded the quilt so they have a tangible token of appreciation for their service, sacrifice and valor.

As the daughter and wife of a veteran, Martin was immediately intrigued by the idea of starting a local QOVF chapter, but felt that she had too much on her plate. However, just over a year later, she realized the time was now or never.

“It was something I really wanted to be a part of and I decided life wouldn’t get any easier,” says Martin. “I’m glad I decided that, because it has been so worth it.”

In 2009, the Mid-Missouri Quilts of Valor was started. The group provides quilts to all service men and women who have been affected by war in the mid-Missouri area. Each quilt is pieced and quilted locally by volunteers who make every effort to personalize it by embroidering a special message section that includes the veteran’s name, military unit, service dates and more.

“Our first quilt presentation was to the 18-year-old son of a nurse at the Veterans’ Hospital,” Martin says. “He was being deployed and we thought he would humor us by allowing us to give him a quilt, but he was honestly so touched that he took the quilt with him to Iraq. That really gave our group the motivation to keep going.”

Since its founding, the Mid-Missouri Quilts of Valor has presented over 300 quilts. This is made possible by the selfless volunteers who donate to the mission, from purchasing of supplies to cutting and pressing to quilting and stitching. Gail Marcy, owner of Satin Stiches Sewing and Embroidery, donates workspace for the group’s monthly meetings. Most volunteers have been touched by war in some way, usually through relation to a veteran.

Service-learning students from MU also provide support to the organization through marketing and fundraising. Mid-Missouri Quilts of Valor established a partnership with the Office of Service-Learning in January 2011, with a handful of students serving each semester. This fall, four students are working to publicize the organization’s mission and encourage further community support.

Service-learner Jonathan Pingry, a junior business administration major, is in charge of updating the organization’s Facebook page and developing a simplified fundraising campaign.

“I feel great about helping such a wonderful cause,” Pingry says. “Veterans often don’t get the recognition they deserve, so it’s very empowering to help show appreciation for them and offer support.”

Pingry and his fellow service-learners also helped to plan and organize Mid-Missouri Quilts of Valor’s recent Veterans Day Award Ceremony on November 11.

Twenty-one veterans were presented quilts at the ceremony: Gerald Bryson – Marines, Korea; Scott Burks – Army National Guard, Iraq and Afghanistan; Jeff Curry – Marines; Michael Davis – Air Force, Vietnam; Gary Dietrich – Navy, Vietnam; Larry Espeleta – Army, Naval Reserves, Army National Guard, Vietnam; Eric Farr, Sr. – Career Air Force; Lora Ann Finn – Army National Guard, Enduring Freedom; Tony Gallaher – Army, Saudi Arabia; Randy Glendening – Marines, Desert Storm; Richard Grant – Career Army, National Guard; John Hendrickson – Air Force, Vietnam; Hubert Hickam – Navy, Navy Reserves, WWII; Nancy Julian – Air Force, Desert Shield, Desert Storm; Gene Perry – Army, WWII; Owen Snodgrass – Air Force, Vietnam; William Stack – Army, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait; Julie Thompson – Air Force, Air National Guard; Stephen Webber – Marines, Iraq; Robert Wilcox – Army, Vietnam, Iraq; and Pat Wilson – Marines, Vietnam.

In remarks following their acceptance, many expressed their gratitude.

“This is a fantastic organization,” said Farr. “Being recognized is a great honor for me and I am thankful.”

Attendees of the ceremony also expressed praise for the organization.

“The Veterans Day Ceremony was a valuable experience for me,” says Lauren Selaiden, a service-learner and junior business administration major who helped present quilts at the event. “It helped me to understand why these women dedicate so much of their time to this organization and realize how special it is to help people who serve our country.”

To learn more about Quilts of Valor, contact Jan Martin at jmartin8183@centurytel.net. For more information on how to volunteer with Mid-Missouri Quilts of Valor through the Office of Service-Learning, email servicelearning@missouri.edu or call 573-882-0227.