Betty Nielsen, Fonda, fondly known for her devotion to organizing the non-profit organization Freedom Quilts, was presented the Inspiration Award at the second annual Women in Denim conference held Friday and Saturday at Buena Vista University. She was given a standing ovation by the some 380 women in attendance.
In a nomination essay, Laurel Davis, Paullina, describes Betty.
"The first time I saw this woman, she wore a sweatshirt and jeans. Typical Iowa farm wife attire, right? Maybe, but there is nothing 'typical' about this woman. She is a human dynamo who, overnight, changed from a denim-clad farm wife and mother to a larger-than-life advocate for the living victims. Changing your life completely takes spirit and faith, two qualities this women has in abundance.
"To meet this person is to meet a shining star. She is physically tiny but she has a huge heart! She just will not stop until she reaches her goal of comforting people.
"One of the definitions of 'spirit' is a special attitude or frame of mind. Her spirit started a movement," the nomination reads.
"This woman is a hero. She continues this all-encompassing project knowing she is making a positive difference. She receives no support from 'big business' and carries on anyway. She realizes there will still be quilts to stitch and deliver, there will still be the need to speak publicly to promote Freedom Quilts, a non-profit organization to ensure that every family members who requests a quilt gets a quilt, hand-stitched with love in memory of a brave American...and there will still be opportunities to personally comfort the family members left behind."
A surprised Betty accepted the award from Rhonda Christensen. She admitted she really wasn't planning to attend the conference because she was busy quilting, but was talked into going by friend and Women in Denim committee member Beulah Imming.
"It's hard to let go," she said of her devotion to share warmth with others. She shared that 5,000 quilts have been made for 9/11 families who lost a loved one, and families of soldiers lost in the Iraq conflict. She has made trips personally to New York and other regions to deliver the quilts. More quilts remain in the works.
Her hope is that each family that has received one of the hand-made Freedom Quilts "feels the love that we put into these quilts" when they wrap themselves in one. "We, as Americans, truly care for everyone we have given a quilt to. From my deepest heart, I thank you."