(Posted Dec. 17, 2014)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Thirteen children ranging in age from infant to 10 years old are getting priceless gifts this Christmas.
With the help of family and friends from near and far, London resident Marcus Freed organized the creation of quilts for each of his grandchildren using fabric from his late wife’s clothing. Brenda Freed passed away April 8 following a battle with gastrointestinal cancer.
“I wanted to do something to honor Brenda and give something to the grandkids so they will remember her,” Marcus said.
The idea came from London resident Peggy Link, who volunteered at Madison Health with the Freeds and is a member of the quilting group that meets weekly at the Madison County Senior Center. When Link’s sister passed away, she made a quilt for her niece. Link told Marcus about the concept and he ran with it.
Link and several other senior center quilters helped Marcus cut squares from Brenda’s clothing. They used everything from pajamas to dressy outfits and mapped out a simple block pattern—seven squares across by nine down for a total of 63 seven-inch squares per quilt.
At the center of each quilt is a square featuring a portrait of Brenda reproduced on fabric. The original pencil drawing was done by an inmate at London Correctional Institution where Marcus volunteers for a faith-based prison initiative and works as a volunteer recruiter.
Once all 819 squares were cut—a process completed over three months this summer—Marcus found volunteers to sew the squares together into 13 quilt tops.
Next, Mary Beachy, who owned a quilt shop in Plain City, attached sashing around the tops and cut fabric for the backs. Brenda and Mary were sewing circle friends at Shiloh Church. All of the backing fabric features purple accents, a nod to Brenda’s February birthstone, amethyst.
Freed packaged up the tops, backs, and batting into 13 kits, which he mailed or delivered to people in Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Ohio. Aunts, cousins, church friends, wives of fellow volunteers, and Brenda’s mother were among those who quilted the pieces together.
“The one that went to Florida was put together by one of our former students,” said Marcus. “Brenda had her as a student her first year in teaching, and I had her my second year in teaching.”
The Freeds had long teaching careers, starting in Sarasota, Fla., in the 1970s. After moving to London in 1978, both were employed at London City Schools—Brenda for 25 years and Marcus for 32 years.
The 13 quilts were finished by early December. Marcus presented them to his grandchildren on Dec. 20 and included with each a sheet of paper detailing exactly whose handiwork was involved, including who sewed the top together, who hand-quilted it and who hemmed it, along with the stories of their connection to Brenda.
The quilt project isn’t the first time Marcus has stitched together memories.
In 2007, four years before she was diagnosed with cancer, Brenda contracted herpes encephalitis, a rare brain infection.
“She lost 25 to 30 years of her memory,” Marcus said. While she retained memories from early in her life, she had trouble recognizing the people and recalling the events that happened later in her life.
“Nothing from college. She didn’t remember our wedding,” Marcus said. “She read her old journals and said it was like reading a novel about someone she didn’t know.”
To help rebuild that part of her memory, Marcus took up scrapbooking. He pieced together the timeline she was missing from his side of the family and hers. Through pictures and stories, he retold how they met at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, got married, moved to Florida, and later moved to London.
He scrapbooked the births and lives of their three children, Ryan, Shaun and Kara, and their grandchildren. At the time of her death, Brenda knew the 13th grandchild was on the way.
Now, the family has not only scrapbooks to remember Brenda by, but also quilted memories they can wrap up in.
“We were blessed with seven years with her” following the brain infection, Marcus said. “And she’s still touching lives.”