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Honoring America’s heroes

By Staff | May 27, 2011

Betty Nielsen, center, and her Freedom Quilts volunteers present a quilt in honor of fallen New York City firefighter Jonathon Ielpi to his family, including his mother, Anne Ielpi; his sister, Melissa Brengel, and Melissa's son, Gavin, age 4.

By Darcy

Dougherty

Maulsby

Farm News staff writer

Fonda-When American statesman Daniel Webster paid tribute to fallen heroes more than a century ago, he noted that, “Although no sculptured marble should rise to their memory, nor engraved stone bear record of their deeds, yet will their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored.”

Tim Enderton, of Ankeny, signs the “Iowa Has Not Forgotten” Freedom Quilt as Dennis Nielsen looks on.

Memories aren’t enough, however, for Dennis and Betty Nielsen and their team of volunteers at Freedom Quilts, who have devoted countless hours to creating personalized quilts for families who lost a loved one on Sept. 11, 2001, and military families who have lost a service member.

For the past 10 years, the volunteers have stitched approximately 7,000 hand-made quilts for families across the country, and their work continues.

“The requests for quilts keep coming in left and right, and I won’t say, “No,” to anyone,” said Nielsen, who farms with her husband in Pocahontas County. “I don’t want any of the 9/11 families or our military families to be forgotten.”

Emotions run deep

Earlier this spring, the Nielsens hosted a memorial service at the Freedom Quilts shop on their farm near Varina, where they presented quilts to the families of:

  • Lance Cpl. Joshua Davis, 19, of Perry, who died May 7, 2010, serving his country in Afghanistan. Accepting the quilt were his mother, Beverly Russell, and two sisters.
  • Sgt. Joseph Milledge, 23, of Glenwood, who died Oct. 5, 2007, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat operations in Iraq. Accepting the quilt were his mother, Carla, and sister Jaclyn. Milledge left behind a wife and son.
  • Airman 1st Class Brandy Fehr, 22, of Boone, who died April 8, 2006, in a motorcycle accident caused by a drunk driver. She was stationed at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo. Accepting the quilt were her parents, Ron and Sandy Fehr, of Boone.
  • New York City Firefighter Jonathan Ielpi, 29, who died Sept. 11, 2001, when he and his fellow rescue workers made their way into the World Trade Center. Accepting the quilt were his mother, Anne, sister Melissa Brengel, and nephew Gavin Brengel, Ielpi left behind a wife and two sons.

“The requests for quilts keep coming in left and right, and I won’t say, ‘No,’ to anyone.” —Betty Nielsen Founder, Freedom Quilts

The quilts, which were personalized with photos shared by the families, were presented one at a time by quilters Patty Archer, Beulah Imming, Sue Koster and Linda Madsen to the families.

Each work of art reflected the interests and hobbies of the person being honored.

Davis’ quilt noted his love for football, while Milledge’s quilt featured images of some of his favorite things, including his dog. Fehr’s quilt incorporated her favorite color, purple, and Iepli’s quilt showcased his passion for firefighting.

“By the time we got this done, I felt like we really know your son,” Nielsen told Davis’ mother as she presented the quilt while choking back tears. “It’s very emotional for us.”

The presentation of a quilt is equally emotional for the families. Melissa Brengel, who traveled to rural Iowa from Long Island, N.Y., wanted to meet the generous Iowans who make Freedom Quilts possible.

Ron and Sandy Fehr, of Boone, received a Freedom Quilt in honor of their daughter, Brandy Fehr, Airman First Class, who died in 2006.

“My brother died doing what he loved, and I don’t have words to express how grateful we are for the overwhelming love we’ve received here.”

That’s thanks enough for Beulah Imming, of Fonda, who helps tie the quilts and has volunteered with Freedom Quilts from the beginning.

“We get back so much more than we give, especially when you see how much these quilts mean to the families who receive them.”

Tribute Center Quilt

During the memorial event at the Nielsen farm, the Freedom Quilts volunteers also unveiled a special Tribute Center Quilt, which will remain on display at the WTC Tribute Center in New York City. Like all Freedom Quilts, this one comes from the heart and is made with love to comfort others, said Nielsen, who read a poem that’s included on one of the quilt blocks:

“We thought of you with love today, but that is nothing new. We thought about you yesterday and the day before that, too.

“We think of you in silence, and often speak your name. All we have now are memories, and your pictures in a frame.

“In life we loved you dearly; in death we love you still. In our hearts you hold a place no one can ever fill.

“It broke our hearts to lose you, but you did not go alone. For a part of us went with you, the day God called you home.”

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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