By ANN ALI ∙ email@example.com
WALDECK — She isn't looking for recognition, and she isn't trying to create the most complex designs, but Leanna Haynes of Waldeck is making her mark with hundreds of keepsakes for the families of U.S. servicemen and women.
And keep them the children do.
The quilts, bears, dolls and tiny blankets that swaddle the bears are clutched throughout deployments, providing comfort and strength to children and families through the toughest of times. Haynes can't crank them out fast enough.
Haynes took up quilting on a whim 12 years ago, and after a lifetime of supporting the military with baskets at Christmas and gifts for veterans in the hospital, she got the idea to create quilts for the troops.
"I flunked home ec," Haynes laughed. "I did a presentation for the Family Readiness Group and thought I could just give them to the kids.
"I figured I'd do the first one and see how it went."
Now four years and 2,215 quilts later, Haynes spends between 12 and 18 hours a day working on quilts of different sizes and colors to prepare for pre-deployment events throughout the state.
"The little ones, usually I can do two or three a day. They're considerably faster," she said. "Right now at the house I have enough for 200, and sometimes we don't know much in advance."
Haynes works with local Family Readiness Groups, which tell her how many families will be deploying soon, and Haynes puts her quilts and bears on a table at pre-deployment events. Each child chooses his or her favorite, which is usually the latest cartoon or the brightest color, but Haynes makes the quilts out of whatever fabric she can get under her needle.
Each square gets four seams, and then the squares are sewn together and quilted by machine. Haynes wants the quilts to be used, not stored or put on display.
Haynes and her husband, Norman, put themselves into each item given away — from handwritten notes on each gift to supplies purchased with their own money to the time and space in their home they give up to the craft. Norman is still patiently waiting on the quilt Leanna started making for their bed 16 years ago. It's currently packed away in plastic waiting for her free time.
Both Leanna and Norman have attended each pre-deployment event except one, and several faces stand out in her memory, such as one soldier with eight children, and the families with both parents being deployed — "those are the hard ones," she said.
"It's very heart-wrenching and very rewarding," Norman said.
Haynes spent 11 years as a bartender and many more years as manager of the local Super 10 store before an accident caused her to retire. She purchased her Singer brand Nolting Longarm No. 151 shortly thereafter.
"My machine cost almost more than my house," Haynes said. "I won't let anybody else touch it."
Several organizations are helping Haynes' cause. She said the Historical Society of Gilmer County gave her about 1,000 yards of fabric, a widower whose wife quilted donated all of his late wife's supplies, and the Vadis Fire Department donated some materials as well.
Haynes also is quick to thank American Legion Post 4 and Post 7, VFW Post 573, Fraternal Order of Eagles Post 2353 and Post 2353 as well as the local Stonecoal Fishing Club.
She purchases her materials locally, mostly at Helen's Hen House in Buckhannon. James Dennison with the Weston American Legion Post No. 4 said his organization has to keep a close eye on its funds, but he sees Haynes as a worthy cause.
"She showed up on our door asking for help," he said with a smile. "We invited her to do a meeting, and she's been with us ever since."
The Hayneses have two grown sons and a daughter, 16 grandchildren and a dog named Buddy. Norman is a disabled veteran, and he reminds Leanna to get out of the house and take regular breaks from her sewing machine.
But her eyesight and her hands are both still quite strong, and Leanna said she plans to keep quilting for her cause.
"As long as I can do it, or until all the troops come home," she said.
For information or to help Haynes' efforts (and give her a break from her sewing machine), call her at 304-269-9787.