Like a lot of dads and grandpas, Bill Armstrong had a pair of denim overalls that he just wouldn’t throw away, despite the good-natured teasing of his family.
And so, when Armstrong passed away from pancreatic cancer a couple years ago, daughter Kelly Drews just couldn’t part with those well-worn overalls.
But, in a fitting turn of events that family members say would thrill Armstrong, his beloved overalls found new life as the outfit of a “prayercrow” for his daughter’s pre-K students at St. John the Baptist School in Plymouth.
“It’s a special tribute that she didn’t even plan — it just happened,” said school principal Amy Nelson.
It began like any other lesson plan – the pre-K students were reading stories about scarecrows, and Drews thought it would be a fun project to make one as a class. To incorporate some elements of their pre-literacy curriculum, she had the kids make a list of all the supplies they would need to create their scarecrow.
“Just to get the list started, I said I had the pants,” she said. “I didn’t really have the pants — I just thought I’d find some.” Students added their own ideas for the scarecrow’s accessories — a shirt, pumpkins, gourds, even a cat companion. On her lunchbreak the next day, Drews was rushing to transfer a large pile of pumpkins and gourds from her car when she realized she didn’t have anything to carry them into the classroom.
That’s when she spied Bill Armstrong’s worn old overalls, absent-mindedly tossed in her backseat a while back with the intention of having them made into a quilt. Pressed for time, she fashioned them into a makeshift duffel bag, filling the legs and torso with pumpkins.
It wasn’t until she began unloading them in her classroom that she realized it: these overalls, silent witness to so much of her father’s life, were meant for this special scarecrow.
“It really became a part of my heart … like, of course these are the pants for the scarecrow.” she said. “And I looked at them and saw the pathetic holes in them — my dad had money to replace the pants, they could have gotten new ones, and my mom was always saying, you’re not wearing that out with me. But, he was always busy, always hard-working, and even after retiring up north he was constantly doing stuff outside, and he would say, they’re good enough for doing things outside.”
As the children made patches for the overalls with glue and pieces of felt, they commented on the endearing shabbiness of the clothes. “They kept saying things like, oh, this farmer must have been a hard worker,” said Nelson. “Kelly was chuckling to herself because her family had kept saying to get rid of these pants, Dad, they’re looking beat-up, and he never wanted to.”
Drews also decided that the scarecrow should have a higher purpose: he could, in fact, be a “prayercrow,” something to inspire her 17 pre-K students to a greater closeness with God through prayer. Drews and the children all wrote down prayer petitions to insert into the breast pocket of the scarecrow’s overalls, and she sent home “prayer hands” on which the students could write their daily petitions with their parents.
The scarecrow spent much of last fall stationed at the side door of the school where the pre-K students get dropped off and picked up, and it became a way for them to begin and end each school day in prayer.
“She’s spotted the kids even kneeling and praying next to it after they put a little special intention in his pocket,” said Nelson.
Before the end of the season, the prayercrow’s pocket was stuffed pretty full. Petitions ranged from large societal ills to small favors and family matters, and there were plenty of prayers of thanks, too. Drews put in a prayer for her father and for all those who suffer from cancer. Her granddaughter Kylie Drews, who also happens to be a student in her class, wrote out a prayer “for all sickness.” Classmate Abe Stephanie prayed for his pets and thanked God for his name. Even some of the older students have tucked a prayer or two in that pocket, said Drews.
The scarecrow has helped to spur a conversation with the children on prayer, she added.
“We talk together a lot about, is there anything that God cannot do for us? At that younger level, that’s really what that encompasses for us. The pocket can be really full and we can all have things that we want to pray about but is that too much for Him?” said Drews. “No, of course not.”
Drews still plans to make the pants into a special quilt to remember Armstrong. But for now, she thinks he would be pleased that his old overalls held the prayers of a dozen young children. He was a person of faith, an outdoorsman, a hunter and fisherman — “whatever it was the earth had to offer, he was always in search of it,” she said. “He just was a very genuine person. I even thought, as we put this all together and I propped him outside and things, it was truly one of those moments of, yeah, he’d be happy with this.”
“Every time she used to look at those pants, it would make her kind of sad, thinking that Dad’s never going to wear them again,” said Nelson. “Now,” she said, “when she comes to school and sees the scarecrow sitting outside on the steps, it reminds of her dad.”