BOONSBORO, Md. — Dolores Grossnickle had been quilting since she was a teenager. She had just completed the finishing work on a quilt made by her church’s quilting group for a disaster relief auction when a heart attack took her life.
“We were all quite shocked,” said daughter Judy Lohman of Myersville, Md.
The finished quilt was on display at Dolores’ funeral.
Judy said her mother quilted with several groups — Friendship Quilters Guild in Hagerstown, Fahrney-Keedy’s Quilt Group and Grossnickle Church of the Brethren Quilters Group.
While she describes her mother as “humble, quiet, kind,” Judy learned at her mother’s funeral just what a spark plug she was for the church’s quilting group. It was Dolores who developed the pattern, usually inspired from an old quilting pattern, chose the fabrics and color combinations, and led the team of quilters.
“She was recognized as the leader. She came early, stayed late and tied up the loose ends,” said Pastor Donna Ritchey Martin, who with her husband is co-pastor of Grossnickle Church of the Brethren near Myersville, and a member of the quilting group.
Every year since 1981, when the Disaster Relief Auction was started, Dolores assembled a group of quilters to create their offering for the annual auction, which is sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic District Church of the Brethren to benefit its Emergency Disaster Response Fund.
In October or November, Dolores would offer workshops for the quilters to share the best quilting stitches and techniques.
“She was quite a teacher of the applique,” Donna said.
Donna said at the start of each quilt, Dolores would give each member of the quilting group a Ziploc bag of quilt pieces she had cut out, along with thread and supplies. She insisted that all of the piecing, appliqueing and quilting be done by hand.
Dolores hosted the quilters in the basement of her Myersville home, but after she moved to Fahrney-Keedy after a fall a year and a half ago, the quilters began meeting in the church. Despite her move, she remained active in her church’s community.
The Grossnickle group’s quilts have commanded high prices because of the quality of their work and the appealing designs Dolores created. Their 2003 quilt sold for more than $4,000, Donna said.
As members of the group got older, they would purchase a quilt top in Lancaster, Pa., but do the quilting and finishing themselves.
Jane Kendall, who lives near Middletown, Md., is the same age as Dolores. She said they were “very, very close friends” and that Dolores was her niece. She said Dolores was very supportive when Jane’s husband died 17 years ago.
The women went on bus trips and into town together. They didn’t see each other as often after Dolores moved to Fahrney-Keedy, but talked on the phone several times a week.
“I’m really going to miss her lots now. We can’t talk on the phone now,” said Jane, who added Dolores was more like a sister. “She was just a good person.”
As a teenager, Dolores was an avid quilter and seamstress. After she married Robert Grossnickle and they started a family, Dolores put her quilting aside to focus on raising their three children — two daughters and a son. They also ran a dairy farm near the church and raised chickens, cows and hogs.
“You always put your family first,” Judy said. “My mother drove us to piano lessons, swimming lessons, church camps and 4-H club activities. She did not take time to pamper herself or pursue her own interests as she was busy raising her children and handling the role of the farm wife.”
Dolores sewed most of her children’s and her clothing, as well as children’s choir robes for the church. She taught her daughters, Karen Toms of Charles Town, W.Va., and Judy, to embroider and sew, and got them involved in 4-H, but neither shared their mother’s passion for quilting.
Son Tommy Grossnickle and his family live in Taylors Island, Md. There are six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Once the children were grown, Dolores resumed her quilting. Her quilts were signed and dated, and some tell stories of her life and include historical details about current events, such as the Cherry Quilt she finished in early 2007 that had details of Gerald Ford’s death on the back.
Her State Birds quilt was made of 48 squares that she embroidered as a teenager, about the time of her high school graduation in 1948. The squares finally were put together after she raised her children and was the first quilt she quilted by herself, Judy wrote in an email.
Dolores made more than 25 quilts — “her prized possessions” — for her family, in addition to numerous wall hangings and the quilts with her quilting groups. As soon as she finished a quilt, she would move on to the next one, often thinking about patterns, colors and designs “all night long,” Judy said.
When Dolores and her husband divorced after the children were raised, she moved to a house in town and quilting helped get her through it.
“The divorce was very difficult for her as no one divorced in those days,” Judy wrote. “My mother often stated that her quilting was her therapy. My mother stayed positive and strong when events around her were difficult. She stayed strong for her children — she was our role model to keep moving forward and learn from life’s lessons.”
Dolores was well known at Fahrney-Keedy before she moved there because she volunteered in the gift shop for about 30 years. She also recruited new auxiliary members and helped make quilts to auction to raise money for scholarships and items needed for the home, as well as making sandwiches for food sales.
“That’s what she’s about. She gives back to the community,” Judy said.
Judy said she and her siblings were raised in the era of party lines, rotary phones, butcherings and very large gardens. Her mother grew flowers as well, and could take the bounty of the garden and the farm and turn it all into something creative, whether a flower arrangement or large meal for the family and farm hands.
Pulling homemade taffy and Dolores’ homemade doughnuts were other memorable moments.
Dolores was very proud of her family, both her own and her church family. She was connected to the founding fathers of the church on both her former husband’s side and through her mother’s family. Her mother’s maiden name was Grossnickle.
“My memories are of a very loving family,” Judy said. “She spoiled us with her love and never with material, wasteful things. She was kind, loving, happy and funny.”
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Dolores G. Grossnickle, who died Jan. 29 at the age of 80. Her obituary was published in the Jan. 31 edition of The Herald-Mail.