Dozens of quilters meet at Kirk-Bear Canyon Library every week from noon–3 pm. They call themselves the Bear Canyon Quilters. I recently joined them at a meetup and was inspired by what I saw and heard. I hope their story inspires you too.
Six years ago, library customer Lee, alongside her then 94-year old mother Vera, started a community quilting club at Kirk-Bear Canyon Library. They were the only two to start, but word quickly spread.
The group swelled in size and popularity. On most days, every chair in the room is filled. Some people find space on the floor. The group welcomes everyone, from beginners to life-long quilters. They range in age from nine to 100. Vera says, “I never knew it would become this popular, but I’m happy it did.”
On the day that I visit them, all of the seats are occupied, friendly conversation fills the room, and numerous brightly colored finished quilts are draped over the backs of chairs. As soon as I walk in I can see how much joy the quilters find in one another and the weekly meetup.
Regular member, Sue, says, “It’s our therapy.” Looking around the room, a warm smile spreads across her face.
The group is very much about community. Many of their finished quilts find homes at charities throughout Tucson, from Quilt for a Cause and TMC for Women to the Ronald McDonald House and Aviva Children’s Services.
Joan, who works primarily on the floor even when seats are available, selflessly gives her quilts to Peppi’s House Hospice at Tucson Medical Center. She began donating them there four years ago when a friend of hers passed away there. Joan tears up as she says, “I was inspired to do so because of the high level of care and compassion they show patients and families… I like to think my quilts are giving comfort to people who are hurting. We should all be doing things to ease the pain of others.”
When asked about what the quilting group means to her, Joan smiles and says, “Everyone is so nice here. If I’m at home, I’m alone listening to the radio. Here I get to listen to pleasant chit-chat.”
Kate agrees. She started coming around the time the group began. When her son passed away, she was overcome with grief, and she stopped attending. Her friend and fellow quilter, Joyce, called and said, “Get ready, I’m coming to pick you up.” Kate returned to the group. Kate and Joyce look at one another with mutual admiration. Kate says, “You saved me.”
For Joyce, discovering the group played a huge role finding her place in Tucson after a move from Colorado. “I was excited to explore a new city and get to know the desert, but felt challenged to meet new friends… the Bear Canyon Quilters were immediately, welcoming, accepting, helpful, and friendly.”
The members’ stories are as varied as the projects they work on. Pat drives all the way from her home in Sahuarita to attend. Quilting has been her passion for nearly three years and she says the quilters “have taken her under their collective wing.”
At age 9, Audrey is the youngest member. She came with her grandma to hang out during a school break. She’s now a quilter herself and attends whenever she can. She enjoys Joan’s company and opts to sit next to her on the floor.
Charlie collects donated scraps and the group works together to finish quilts and donate to Casa de los Niños. Kate says, “If you look up salt of the earth in the dictionary, there’d be a picture of Charlie.”
When Vera celebrated her 100th birthday in early 2018, her friends were right there with her. The surprise party they threw was packed! There were three birthday cakes and, of course, she was gifted a birthday quilt. Joyce was so inspired by Vera that she interviewed family members and pulled together a lovely four-page tribute. All of the members wanted a copy, as did the Peter Howell Neighborhood Association, where Vera lives.
Kate says, “Vera has lived an incredible life. She worked in education in Chicago and in the trade industry at a time when women did not often occupy those spaces. She broke the glass ceiling.” Joyce says, “She inspires all of us… and always has a smile on her face and never a complaint on her lips.”
The group has brought many people together in friendship and camaraderie. They have cake once a month to celebrate birthdays and home gardeners bring in food to share with others. One holiday-loving member started their Christmas in July tradition.
It’s about community and lifting one another up. As woman after woman hold up finished projects, the others stop what they’re doing to enthusiastically congratulate them.
The quilting group has grown more than Lee and Vera could have ever imagined. For Library staff, it embodies what we want the Library to be… a place where people come together.
Story by Holly Schaffer, Pima County Public Library's Community Relations Manager. Holly's favorite thing to do is visit with our wonderful customers to learn about all the ways the Library is making a difference in people's lives. Do you have a library story to tell? Contact Holly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (520) 594-5610.
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