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Monday, May 2, 2016

Freedom Quilters find unexpected allies at Coe

Thursday, January 24, 2002

An Iowa woman is still working at collecting a quilt for every family that lost someone in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America.

The latest donation comes from faculty and staff at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.

Laura Skandera-Trombley, the college dean and a Mark Twain scholar, heard about Betty Nielsen and her Freedom Quilt project during a stop at a service station.

Skandera-Trombley and Coe secretaries Jennifer Archibald and Doris Gitzy organized the quilt effort, which was joined by 22 members of the faculty and staff.

"We thought it was something nice we could do for the folks in New York City," Gitzy said. "It's a wonderful idea to send something so warm and caring all the way from Iowa."

Nielsen, who lives on a farm near Varina, a town of 90 in Pocahontas County northwest of Fort Dodge, had wanted to collect the 4,000 quilts by Christmas, but that goal proved too ambitious.

The Freedom Quilters effort, though, was rejuvenated after Nielsen and a few of her helpers traveled to New York City to distribute 1,554 quilts to victim families.

"The response to the quilts was awesome," Nielsen said. "Now we are pleading with people to make more quilts so that we can have at least one quilt for every family."

The trip almost didn't happen.

New York officials initially denied the Iowans access to the three-day Winter Wonderland Fair, set up for victim families at the end of December.

Nielsen objected, saying she had to make sure the quilts reached the people they were intended for.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, intervened. The Iowans were given access, and Wal-Mart trucked the quilts to New York City.

Nielsen said she felt obligated to deliver the quilts in person.

She said the personal contact with the family members gave her a better idea of what they like.

"They want patriotic quilts," she said. "Anything with red, white and blue they like, regardless of how simple they are.

"Some would talk about those they had lost, some wanted a hug, and some just cried," she said.

One woman, Arlene Tipping of Stony Brook, N.Y., lost her son, John J. Tipping II, a firefighter for Engine Co. 54 in Manhattan. Nielsen's group presented Tipping a quilt on the "Good Morning, America" television show.

"This is the most treasured gift that I have and it came from complete strangers," Tipping said. "The hardest part is that I would like to wrap myself in it, but I still treat it as something too good to use."

Tipping plans to have a patch sewn on the inside of the quilt with John's name and his Jan. 4 birthday. She considers it a gift to her son.

The Coe group hopes its quilt makes a similar impact.

Its quilt is on display in the Coe administration building this month until it's shipped in early February to Nielsen.

The next shipment of quilts leaves in April.

"People who can't sew but want to help will often donate money or material," Nielsen said. "Anything helps."

Since the New York trip, another 150 quilts have arrived, leaving 2,296 to go. Well aware of the challenge, Nielsen remains optimistic.

"We need to get the word out there," she said. "Many people want the comfort of these quilts. It depends on kindhearted people who care and want to help."

On the Net: Freedom Quilt Project http://www.members.aol.com/gethapy/patch...

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