Local veteran honored by quilting program

BALDWIN — Sometimes a quilt is a fun craft project. Other times it can be a symbol of thanks and appreciation. The one presented to 21-year U.S. Army veteran Kevin McCleary on Nov. 19 was the latter.

McCleary was given the quilt by members of the Old Jail Quilters, a quilting club based out of Big Rapids as part of the national Quilts of Valor program. The program presents quilts to wounded service members and veterans of the armed forces.

"Quilts of Valor recently changed the rules so we can make quilts for veterans in addition to wounded soldiers," explained Vickie MacDougall, one of the quilters. "Our founder, Mary Picucci, knew a lot of World War II veterans and she had heard about Quilts of Valor and thought this would be a nice effort for the veterans. She started our local group and the rest of us joined because we all in one way or another thought it was a good way to recognize people who get little or no recognition."

Any veteran or wounded service member can get a quilt commissioned for them by friends or loved ones. The Old Jail Quilters meet monthly in Big Rapids, where they plan and make quilts and then figure out how to get the quilts to the veterans.

"We piece the quilts, cut them and work on the design. Then we use a machine to quilt it and fine tune it before it's finished," said Judy Bromley, another quilter. "We've completed 25 to 30 quilts since we formed the group about a year ago."

McCleary served in Iraq, Kuwait, Korea, Germany and the United States. He is a soldier who would lead those under his command from the front and take the highest risk whenever possible so his younger troops would have a better chance of returning home to their families. He was awarded a Bronze Star for leading an attack in Iraq and earned three purple hearts, the last of which came after his vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device which caused him to leave the service afterward.

"I always thought if someone had to get it, I wanted it to be someone whose kids were already grown up," said McCleary. "You don't join the army for accolades."

The presentation was made at the Baldwin shop The Fabric Peddler, owned by LeeAnn Russell. She had previous ties to the Quilts of Valor organization and said she was happy to help.

"We're part of the same quilt guild and I've donated fabric to this effort before," said Russell. "I've had a father, two brothers and a daughter who went into the military so it was an honor to help them with these projects."

McCleary expressed his gratitude for the gift and said such signs of appreciation can mean all the difference to a veteran.

"This means a whole lot to me and I know it means a whole lot to other veterans," said McCleary. "Knowing there are people thinking about you and who will take time out of their schedule waiting at home can help us through the tough times both when we're deployed and after."

Anyone wishing to donate fabric to the Quilts of Valor program can bring it to The Fabric Peddler. For more information, call (231) 745-4500.