by Jill Ragar Esfeld
PURCELL — Dane Normile loves “just seeing a plain piece of fabric turn into something interesting.”
A member of St. Mary Parish in Purcell, Normile has been a seamstress and quilter for most of her life.
She learned at her mother’s knee.
“My mom always quilted,” she said. “And I always watched her, and that’s how I got started in it.”
Normile recently outdid herself creating “something interesting” when she made Quilts of Valor for every veteran in her parish.
She presented the 16 beautiful handmade quilts at a parish reception as a symbol of comfort and healing for the sacrifices the veterans had made and as a way of thanking them for their service.
And it all started when Normile was trying to think of a way to celebrate her own 70th birthday.
Having a servant’s heart, Normile knew she would only be happy if she could commemorate her birthday by doing something special for someone else.
“I’ve gone to this Catholic church my whole life,” she said. “And I just always do for the community.”
Indeed, Normile is one of the main cooks for parish dinners and she taught religious education for 16 years.
“It used to be that church was your community,” she said. “It’s not that anymore with the way our world has changed.
“But in a small community like this, we try to make it that way.”
And so, Normile tried to think of something special she could do for her community.
Then one day, she was watching television and heard about Quilts of Valor (QOV), a nationwide organization that honors service members and veterans by making and taking them handmade quilts.
Normile saw in the program a perfect way to incorporate her talent for sewing and her desire to help others.
“I thought that would be a good thing,” she said, “especially for the Vietnam veterans. They really got kind of shunned when they came back.”
So Normile decided she would make one quilt for one special veteran.
But she soon found that every veteran in her parish is pretty special.
“So after I did one,” she said, “I thought I could do more.
“And before I knew it, it grew and grew.
“I picked out all the veterans in our parish and I [made quilts for] them, and then I did a few others that had been in the parish years ago.
“That’s how I ended up with the 16.”
Normile had some help quilting the blocks and, when they were complete, she contacted Raylene Mason, the QOV Kansas City area coordinator, to come and speak at the presentation.
“We had the presentation in the church on a Sunday afternoon,” said Normile. “I baked 100 dozen cookies for a reception afterwards.
“It was a lot of baking.”
St. Mary parishioner John Bowman was one of the recipients.
“I went into the service when I was 18 years old,” he said. “And I spent four years in the Air Force — my last two years I was in the Philippines and Vietnam.
“It was an honor to get a quilt from her.”
Bowman echoes the sentiments of all the veterans present.
“They were all really pleased,” said Normile. “Some of them came to tears.
“They were all very appreciative.”
Bowman lives in a log cabin he built 35 years ago. His patriotic Quilt of Valor is a perfect addition to his home.
And it’s a constant reminder that his service isn’t forgotten.
“A lot of people don’t know what it was like [in Vietnam],” he said. “Just to be recognized for my service, that makes me feel good.
“It makes me feel like they haven’t forgotten anything.”
Normile said the whole time she was working on the quilts, she kept their purpose in mind, and it made the work gratifying.
But after finishing 16 quilts, she said she wouldn’t do any more — a decision that didn’t last long.
A servant’s heart is difficult to keep still.
“Well, there were several people that mentioned how their husbands or fathers are veterans,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can do a few more.’
“So now I’m working on three. I’ve got one top done and I’m going to the fabric store tomorrow to get material for the other two.”