By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Marie Marthaler has quilted with the St. John’s Missionary Society ladies for half of her life. She started 45 years ago, making several quilts a year with the group, which were used at fundraisers.
The group formed in about 1935, and at that time they were able to use a big room upstairs in the school building behind St. John the Baptist church in Meire Grove, said Rosie Schmiesing.
“At that time all the school rooms were not being used, so the ladies were able to use one of them,” said Marthaler. “Then the ladies would serve lunch downstairs for the students.”
“My younger sister, Arlene, remembers that on quilting days she and other students could have lunch with their moms,” Marthaler said.
“When the group started, they made many items which were all sent to the mission house in St. Cloud — cancer bandages, cancer pads, hospital gowns made from men’s dress shirts, children’s clothes and rosaries,” said Schmiesing. “The dish towels we made were sold at fundraisers.”
“After a while the school needed the room they were using, so the group moved to the church basement,” she said.
“The high point for the group was in the 1980s, when up to 25 to 30 ladies were actively involved,” said Schmiesing. “We made about 20 quilts a year then. Nine of them were sold at breakfasts and offered for raffles. The other quilts were given to missions.”
The ladies have always done their quilting by hand. “In years past, we did quilts for other people, too,” said Schmiesing. “They would piece them and bring them to us to hand quilt.”
“During the past few years, we have made about three quilts a year,” said Marthaler. “The ladies who we sew with now are Loretta Meyer, Anna Mae Schneider, Rita Loxtercamp, Tillie Wehlage and Marcy Klaphake.”
“From November to February or March every year, we have met once a week at the church,” Marthaler said. “A group of men in town play cards while we sew and then eat lunch with us.”
“Six families bring a potluck lunch to the church, and the men pay a little money for the meal,” said Schmiesing.
“For the mission suppers at church, we put up a mission exhibit. We sell many things there in addition to quilts, such as embroidered dish towels and rosaries,” she said.
“Other items we make go to the mission house in St. Cloud,” said Marthaler, “where they are sent to other countries.”
“Each year, we also finish a fundraiser quilt for the school. The students make the blocks, which helpers sew together, and then we quilt it,” she said.
“There is a steak and wine auction held every year at the Greenwald Pub for St. John’s-St. Andrew’s School,” Schmiesing said. “The quilt is auctioned off there.”
Sewing and quilting have simply been a regular part of life for these ladies. “My mom quilted,” said Schmiesing, “and I sewed right along with her.
“When she knotted quilts, it was a fun thing to help with that. Our stitches weren’t the best; she probably took them out afterwards,” she said, chuckling.
“I made a lot of clothes,” said Marthaler. “It was after I was married in 1946 that I learned to quilt on my own.”
Marthaler made a baby quilt for each of her nine grandchildren. “And I still embroider dish towels,” she said. “I was always making quilts for missions and didn’t make many for family members.”
Schmiesing made wedding quilts for each of her 14 children, and has been giving each grandchild a quilt when they graduate from high school. “There are eight out of 32 left to graduate, and most of the quilts are already pieced and waiting,” she said.
This is Marthaler’s second term as the mission officer at St. John’s, a post she’s filled for 20 years. She had been the mission officer prior to that as well.
Schmiesing has been the mission officer several times. “One stretch was 19 years,” said Schmiesing. “It is the officer who usually buys materials and puts the quilts in the frame to be quilted by hand.”
But this is their last year. As they lose members to old age and death, younger women are not coming forward to take their places.
“Younger women don’t seem to be interested,” said Schmiesing. “We’ve offered night sewings, but people are busy.”
“But we’ve enjoyed doing what we could,” said Schmiesing.