Pieces of history

Senior citizens' plea for help draws celebrities' autographs

Senior citizens' plea for help draws celebrities' autographs

March 29, 2007|by JANET HEIM

BOONSBORO - As more than 300 squares of muslin fabric were mailed to celebrities across the country, the hopes of an energetic fundraising committee at Fahrney-Keedy Retirement Village near Boonsboro went along for the ride.

Betsy Miller, an administrative assistant at the retirement village, called the idea for a celebrity quilt an "inspiration from God."

After the idea came to her, Miller assembled a committee of 23 residents and volunteers, ranging in age from 65 to 95, who worked tirelessly to see the project through.

"Every time I come in, they get so excited with the pictures, names. That's all I've heard about for six months," said committee member and former resident Dolores Grossnickle.

The committee was motivated by their cause - raising money for the Fahrney-Keedy's Benevolent Fund. The fund helps residents in financial hardship pay their bills.


"Sometimes, financial planning falls short. These are residents, they're family. You wouldn't ask family members to leave your home," Miller said.

The committee met and brainstormed to whom to send letters and quilt squares. With 324 separate letters - some to celebrities with more than one mailing address - Miller said the committee had been hoping it would get maybe as many as 10 to 20 quilt squares returned with autographs.

The first two squares came back within a week's time.

And, what began as a trickle, escalated as the daily U.S. mail delivery brought more and more celebrity autographs and photographs to Fahrney-Keedy.

"I didn't get excited until I started putting the binding on the big quilt and saw all these names," Grossnickle said.

Of all the signatures, it was Bob Barker's that got her attention, she said, because her granddaughter, who lives in Middletown, Md., won a large prize on his show "The Price is Right" a year ago.

In all, the committee received 90 squares and used 87 of them in quilted creations. Two of the signature squares were received too late for the quilting and one was illegible, Miller said.

Of the 87 squares used, two are from TV host Regis Philbin, who returned both squares sent to him at two different addresses.

Others include movie actors Charlton Heston, Elizabeth Taylor, James Earl Jones and Lauren Bacall, country music singer Hank Williams Jr. and TV talk show host Montel Williams, to name a few.

With such an outpouring from the celebrities, the seniors decided to create one large quilt and four smaller-themed wall hangings.

The wall hangings are grouped by signatures - The Metropolitan Opera, Singers and Songwriters, NASCAR and Jimmie Johnson, the 2006 Nextel Cup Winner.

The large quilt, made of 54 signature squares with 55 signatures, was machine-quilted by Mary Perini.

Edna Pryor, 87, Howard Amos, 89, now deceased, and Miller did the hand quilting on the other wall hangings. Amos learned to hand quilt and embroider just for this project.

Sadly, three of the committee members - Emma Lou Schwagel, Olive Peters and Amos - have died since the project started last June. They are remembered with memorial patches on the back of the quilts they worked on.

Each square has been catalogued as it was received and a group of five committee members has taken on the task of compiling scrapbooks for each quilted piece, with information on each celebrity included, as proof of authenticity of the signatures..

"I've learned the true secret of a successful project," Miller said. "Have one senior, or two or three seniors on a committee. They're the most dedicated, loyal members. They're a wonderful resource," she said.

"It's been a wonderful experience."

As the work continued, Miller posted photos and information the celebrities sent on the window to her office. She said she's enjoyed hearing residents and visitors sharing stories and memories they have of some of the celebrities.

The committee is hoping the quilt and wall hangings will attract attention not only locally, but nationally as well.

They plan on auctioning the quilted items on Internet auction site beginning April 9. Bidding will last for 14 days, unless one of the celebrities requests an extension, Miller said.

A free exhibit is open to the public on Sunday, April 1, from noon to 3 p.m. for those who want to get a close look at the quilted creations.

For more information, call Betsy Miller at 301-671-5016 or e-mail her at

Come see ...soon, bid!

The Celebrity Autograph Quilt and Wall Hangings will be on display in the Fahrney-Keedy lobby on Sunday, April 1, from noon to 3 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

The quilted items will go up for bid at the Internet auction site, on April 9.

For more information, call Betsy Miller at 301-671-5016 or e-mail her at bmiller@fkmhorg

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