101-year-old teacher leads group
“A quilt is a warm hug,” said Annette Smith, founder of the Samaritan Quilts group and resident at Lutheran Hillside Village in Peoria, Illinois, a Lutheran Senior Services Life Plan Community. “It keeps us busy!”
Annette, 101, has motivated and inspired others to try the art of quilting. Together they create lap quilts for others. “Jesus said love one another and I can’t think of a better way to love your brothers and sisters than to make them a quilt,” said Annette.
The Samaritan Quilts group is named for their assisted living building, Samaritan Place, and the Biblical story of the “Good Samaritan.” The group is working on a quilt based on the story, in which a Samaritan took care of a wounded man, helping him through the many steps of recovery. “So what we’re doing is using the quilt squares like the steps of the good Samaritan, doing good deeds in many places,” said Annette.
The group also is working on some quilts for two special residents of her community who are both World War II veterans. One of the veterans, now age 99, worked on gliders. The other is a WWII U.S. Air Force veteran. Annette has designed quilts for the veterans using triangles, which often symbolize birds in quilts to represent flying and using the colors of blue and white. She is calling the style “Wild Blue Yonder” in reference to the song. She plans to present the quilts to the gentlemen on Veteran’s Day. After that, the group hopes to make quilts for milestone events like birthdays.
“I am a self-taught quilter. I may not get it exactly right, but I just can’t stop!” When she was growing up, quilting was both a social activity and a necessity. “You couldn’t go to K-Mart for a blanket back then. They started their daughters out at 6 years old. Every girl had to make at least 10 quilts so when she married she had quilts to take with her,” said Annette.
Annette’s love of quilting really took hold about 40 years ago when a co-worker was holding a fundraising event and Annette decided to make a quilt to donate. She settled on lap quilts, which are around the size of a crib blanket, because she didn’t have space for larger frames. “I started doing it and it was so habit forming!” Quilting fit into her busy life as a creative outlet and a way to help others. “I had a job and a husband and four kids. When you quilt you can multi-task and talk to your family.”
Now at a different stage of life, Annette is still quilting and talking! With about four other residents and some staff members, the Samaritan Quilts group spends time together sorting fabric and quilting. “She has been known to have the staff sit down and help her sew. She gets her teacher voice out and the staff fall in line to help her sew!” said Sarah Kent, Director of Lifestyle Enrichment at Lutheran Hillside Village.
Annette is still a teacher at heart! She was born May 23, 1921, in Cadiz, Ky., one of four children of a bricklayer and a domestic worker. After high school, she headed to Indiana State University in Terre Haute, paying her way by working as a live-in housekeeper. She considered majoring in chemistry and biology to prepare for medical school. Instead, she decided to major in education, earning her certificate as a high school teacher. Despite racist policies that thwarted her early attempts at obtaining a teaching job, she persevered. She eventually was hired as a teacher in the Peoria School District in 1957. She taught various grade levels until she retired at age 87.
Like any good teacher, she also enjoys learning. She was particularly inspired by a recent visit to the Peoria Riverfront Museum where she saw “Uncovered: The Ken Burns Collection” exhibition of quilts owned by award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. It showcased 26 historic quilts from the 1860s – 1940s and explored the history, beauty and science behind the art of quilting. Annette has her own historic quilt, her husband’s grandmother’s wedding quilt from the 1880s in a style called “The Bluebird of Happiness” that was given to her to preserve. “The good thing about quilts – they are kind of forever. Handmade quilts will last hundreds of washings,” she said.
Some of the Lutheran Senior Services Marketing and Communications team visited LHV this summer and were delighted to meet Annette and hear about her quilting group and see the logo that Annette designed by hand for the group. Senior Graphic Designer Ryan Gallo was inspired to make a digital version of her logo, which can be printed for use on tags when the quilts are gifted.
Using her creative skills to help others makes her days feel full. “My favorite thing is the camaraderie with the other people who are quilting!” she said.