By: Branden Johnson, Hospice Volunteer Coordinator
When I visit Elmer and Esther Hart I usually bring gifts such as material for quilt tops, batting, and muslin. These gifts are donated by fellow hospice volunteers, patient’s family members, and hospice staff that have seen and appreciated the Hart’s work. Elmer and Esther’s quilts are donated to the Memorial Foundation and allocated throughout Memorial’s Family of Services to facilities such as Cottage in the Meadow, Memorial’s inpatient hospice facility, which is given to patients and their family members after their stay at the Cottage.
This 2-person quilting operation and assembly line takes place in the Hart’s home. Each room in their home has a dedicated, quilt making purpose. We began in their spare bedroom contained with boxes filled to the top with fabric that has been graciously donated. The dining room table was transformed into a quilt-like cutting board and had measuring tools and quilt fabric laid across the table ready to be cut. The garage housed not only their vehicles but also precut quilt fabric cut into 5-inch squares. The dining room floor is dedicated to laying out the precut 5-inch squares on the floor in a 13-row patterned design. Their bedroom is also their sewing room and includes two sewing machines. Lastly, their living room contained a handmade wooden table where pinning and tying quilt tops, batting, and muslin take place. After touring their assembly line, we discussed their passion for quilt making.
Esther began sewing as a teenager and made her own clothes and clothes for her children. In 1995, Ether began making quilts for her church. Once Elmer retired from his private medical practice, he needed a hobby and took an interest in Esther’s quilt making. As an experienced quilter, Esther taught Elmer how to make quilts. Elmer was a quick study and they began making queen size quilts together which were donated to their church. In addition, they made 45’’x 65’’ quilts for Yakima County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA volunteers help to ensure that the needs of abused and neglected children are met, while advocating for their best interests in dependency court. As the years progressed, they continued to give to those in need and began to wonder if there was anyone else in the Yakima community who could use the quilts that they were making.
Elmer called Memorial and asked if we could use any of their quilts. He was directed to Memorial’s Home Care Services where there was a need for their service. So, Elmer’s busy hands began making around 75 quilts per year when he first started volunteering. In 2003, Elmer divided the quilts between CASA and Memorial’s Home Care Services.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and made national news. Elmer’s next door neighbor had a trucking business and he asked the trucker where he was headed and the reply was “New Orleans.” Elmer loaded up 25 quilts that were sent down to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Over the last four years, Elmer made 105 quilts per year which he donated the majority to Memorial’s Home Care Services.
Esther and Elmer have made over 160 quilts together. 146 quilts were donated to The Memorial Foundation and distributed throughout Memorial Family of Services. The remainder of the quilts went to CASA and to family members. In a given week, Esther and Elmer Hart can make about 3 quilts.
Making quilts is a labor of love. The Hart’s quilts contain 117 5-inch blocks that make up the quilt top. The quilts have a total of 96 ties. The Hart’s quilts take 35 minutes to pin the edges and 25 minutes to fancy-stitch and finish the edges. The entire quilt making process takes about 10 hours per quilt. In 2013, Elmer and Esther made a total of 146 quilts which equates to 1,460 hours.
Elmer and Esther Hart have dedicated the past two decades to donating quilts locally and nationally. For January 2014, the Hart’s have already donated 14 quilts and have no intention of taking their foot off the gas. Elmer is a WWII Veteran who will be turning 91 in April of 2014. Esther will be turning 88 in March.
Elmer said it best at the end of the interview, “As long as you have something of value to give to someone else…this is what keeps life going.”