Marion ‘angels’ sew for good of others

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Typically, we think of angels as having flowing white robes, halos and a tendency to float effortlessly through the air.

Frances Kreutziger and Lois Weber wouldn’t fit that description, but many people in local hospitals and long-term care units might argue that these two Marion women are angels of some kind.

Kreutziger and Weber spend much of their time cutting, fitting and sewing articles-such as bibs, lap robes and napkins-for others through their association with the VFW Auxiliary 6958 in Marion.

“The needs the homes have are our driving motivation,” Kreutziger said. “When we take something to the homes, and the men and ladies see these things, they’re so appreciative.”

“It’s therapy for both of us.” Weber said: “When you get older and you’re alone, you have to have something to do. Keeping busy is the best thing.”

Friends since 1968, when Kreutziger joined the VFW Auxiliary, the two women have made literally thousands of items that have been given away to patients and residents.

In the process, they’ve made the lives of hundreds of people a bit brighter.

“I’m the chairman for the hospital VFW Auxiliary,” Weber said. “Just the two of us do this sewing project, although we did have one lady help with about 20 items last year when I had shoulder surgery.”

Adds Kreutziger: “We have a very extensive hospital project we work on. We’ve been doing this for 35 years.”

Kreutziger, who is 82 and has three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said she learned how to sew when she was young.

“We learned to sew out of necessity,” she said. “Back when we grew up, we didn’t have much money, so you learned to sew and we just enjoy doing it-so we continue to do it.”

Weber, whose most recent birthday was her 77th, has four children (one deceased), seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. She also learned the craft at an early age.

“I grew up with my mother having a treadle sewing machine,” she said. “I started sewing before I was ever in high school.”

Weber became so proficient, in fact, that she operated her own seamstress shop for many years, until eye surgery forced her to quit.

Weber said she got the idea to offer her services to local hospitals and nursing homes when a family member was hospitalized.

“My father was in Peabody Memorial in 1970, and they had bibs that just weren’t long enough,” she said. “They asked me if I could make something a little bit longer and I said I could. We’ve been sewing them ever since.”

 The number of items the two women have made is almost beyond comprehension.

In one calendar year-from June 1, 2002, until May 31, 2003-the two have made enough items to make even the most dedicated volunteer take notice:

1,089 bibs;

121 lap robes;

92 ditty bags;

68 napkins;

54 tray pads;

48 hot pads;

14 wheelchair pockets.

Kreutziger and Weber also calculated the number of hours necessary to make these crafts, and came up with 6,386-that’s equal to about 266 days of round-the-clock work.

In addition, Weber also found time to make 28 sets of tea towels that took an additional 590 hours-about 241/2 more 24-hour days.

Benefiting from the generosity of these women were the Marion Manor Nursing Home, St. Luke Living Center, Legacy Park Nursing Home in Peabody, The Veteran’s Administration hospital in Topeka, and the Fort Dodge Old Soldiers Home.

Making so many items can’t be done without a monetary expense, and Kreutziger and Weber said they are always on the lookout for material that can be transformed into works of art.

“We have a lot of people who say, ‘I have a sheet that’s good, but the corner is torn’-or something like that,” Weber said. “The material is still good, so we can use anything like that.”

Added Kreutziger: “Most of the material we pay for, but a lot if it is also used. We’ve had to buy brand new flannel for the backs of the lap robes.”

“This year, we’ve been kind of short on material and money, so we had to go to using double knit,” Weber said.

“We’ve had piles of that given to us, but we’ve just about used all of it,” Kreutziger said. “Double knit is only used for lap robes. The bibs need to be made from cotton, and it all has to be washable.”

Flannel used to be their choice for backing for lap robes, but since the price has increased from 98 cents to $2.50 per yard, it’s become cost prohibitive.

Sometimes their material comes from unlikely sources.

“My son-in-law is Ora Hett, and he was an auctioneer,” Weber said. “He had some fabulous sales where he’d buy a whole pile of sheets for $5. That was a wonderful thing.

“Frances and I have paid for a lot of it with our own money,” she added. “It’s a good place for our money to go because we get such enjoyment out of making these items and seeing the looks on the faces of the people that get them.”

Added Kreutziger: “If people have any fabric they would like to donate to our project, they can either send it to us directly or to the VFW Auxiliary. If they have money they’d like to donate, we’ll buy cloth that we can use and make things from that, too.”

Money can be sent directly to either of the women or to the VFW.

Kreutziger said if a donor sends cash or checks, the donor should indicate that the money is intended for their sewing project, so it will be sure to get to them.

Other items are also on the two women’s “want list.”

“We can always use good white thread,” Kreutziger said. “We go through so much of it, that we can always use more.”

Added Weber: “We hear people tell us that they have material like curtains or sheets that they’ll bring to us, but they just don’t do it often enough.”

But not all fabrics can be used in their projects.

“We can’t use nylon material,” Kreutziger said. “It’s too slippery.

“If anyone has material to donate, or if they would like to donate money to our project, they can also just call us,” Kreutziger said. “Everyone around here knows us anyway, so people can just call us and ask what we need and how to get donations and supplies to us.”

Kreutziger’s said phone number is 620-382-2823, and Weber’s is 620-382-2587.

While Weber was the professional seamstress, she is quick to compliment the talents of her partner.

“Frances is so creative,” she said. “She makes some of the most beautiful items you’ve ever seen. She has such a wonderful talent.”

And don’t let the age of these women make you think they’re slowing down at all.

“For me, it’s easier the older I get,” Kreutziger said. “I’m alone and I have a wonderful room to sew in.

“Why do something else?” she added. “It was actually more difficult to find time to sew when I had a family around.”

Weber said: “We’ve both lost our husbands. I just lost mine last year after 60 years of marriage, and Frances lost her husband 18 years ago, after being married for 43 years.”

“We just have to have something to keep us busy,” Kreutziger said.

While the sewing these women do doesn’t put money in their pockets, that doesn’t mean they aren’t compensated for their work.

“When you see the smiles on people’s faces and they come up to you and put their arms around you and say, ‘Oh, you just don’t know what this means to us,’ well, I say I do know because my dad was (at the Peabody home),” Weber said.

“Knowing we make people’s lives better is the best feeling there is,” Kreutziger said. “That’s pay enough for us.”

Residents at St. Luke Living Center confirm that the work done by Kreutziger and Weber is appreciated.

“If it wasn’t for these ladies, there would be a lot of things we wouldn’t have,” said Pearl Thompson. “We say thanks, but that’s not enough. We appreciate the things they do for us and they go out of their way for us.”

Another resident, Dave Williams, agreed.

“We needed bibs and things like that for a long time,” Williams said. “I looked on the Internet, and those things cost about 10 bucks each.

“I’ve known these ladies from years ago, and they’re good friends of mine,” Williams added. “They just make us all happier, and we really appreciate all the things they do for us.”

Kreutziger said Williams is so appreciative that he donates cash to the sewing project so others will know the good feelings he gets when he receives the items.

Debbie Craig, director of residence services at St. Luke Living Center, said it means a lot to her, her staff and the residents to have people like Kreutziger and Weber involved with them.

“To know we have community support, and that if we have a need there are people who will come to our rescue, means a lot,” she said.

“These ladies have a relationship with the residents that live here. They aren’t volunteers, they’re friends.”

Craig said another example of the two women’s generosity is the flag that flies in front of the Living Center.

It was donated by Kreutziger and Weber.

“A lot of people have a fear of long-term care patients,” Craig said. “We want people to know that long-term care doesn’t have to be a sterile place that is dark and no one wants to visit.

“This can be a fun place to be and to visit, and the fact that Frances and Lois are willing to do these things for our residents and come in here and talk with them, means more than you can imagine.”

“There will be a special place for these two ladies when we go to our next journey,” Craig said.

With a smile on her face, Weber replied, “I just hope they have a sewing machine for us up there.”

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