Joy filled the eyes of a 5-year-old boy as Angeline Bork wrapped her homemade quilt, its fabric filled with colorfulimages of trains and planes, around him and said a prayer asking God to bless the boy.
Emotion chokes Bork’s voice as she tells of the reaction of the boy, a kindergarten student at a Wausau Catholic school, to his comforting quilt.
“He said, ‘How did you know I wanted a blanket like this? Are you really giving it to me?’” said Bork, 86, of Fountain City, located across the Mississippi River from Winona, Minnesota.
The quilt is one of more than 2,000 made and distributed to 4- and 5-year-old students literally around the world by Bork since her husband, Roman, a dairy farmer, died in 1994.
“I am a farm wife. I’ve baled many a bale of hay and milked many a cow,” Bork said.
The strong farming partnership, cemented by a life-long commitment to their Catholic faith and 10 children, ended with Roman’s death.
Bork, who left farming, wasn’t ready to settle down and moved onto a new path in life.
“I am a farm wife. A farmer doesn’t sit down and do nothing. I chose quilting,” Bork said.
She embarked on a mission to produce what she calls “Wee Quilts,” at 42 inches by 52 inches a smaller version of a traditional bed quilt, and distribute them free to children and their teachers, mostly at Catholic schools and churches.
“The denomination doesn’t always matter. I’ve done quilts for public schools and Jewish schools and others,” Bork said. “I love doing quilts for children to give them a boost. I also love doing the quilts for teachers.”
One of Bork’s first major quilting efforts outside Wisconsin occurred following the deadly EF-5, multiple vortex tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011. The nearly one-mile wide tornado killed 158 people and injured 1,500.
“Those victims, so many were children, needed so much,” Bork said.
With help from a niece living in Joplin, Bork shipped 46 Wee Quilts to Joplin for children from one Catholic church.
Bork’s Wee Quilts have found homes in schools and churches in several states as well as Africa, Guatemala andEcuador. Her contacts for schools needing quilts originate from a close source – her family of nine daughters and one son, in addition to nieces and other relatives.
A request from son Daniel has her scurrying to finish 78 children’s and eight teachers’ quilts for a Catholic school in Lexington, Kentucky, where he is an executive with Lexmark computers.
Several of her daughters live in the Milwaukee/Kenosha areas and helped provide quilts to local schools, including St. Mary Parish School, Menomonee Falls, and St. Vincent Pallotti School, Milwaukee.
Bork also regularly provides Wee Quilts to the St. Paul, Minnesota, police department where each squad car carries two of the items to give to children who are victims of crimes such domestic disputes or abuse.
“I think my mother is an angel because she brings a message of God to these children that he loves us. She makes the quilts for children to snuggle up to read a book,” said Katherine Moore of Kenosha, one of Bork’s daughters. “I am pretty proud of my mother. She is amazing.”
On Monday, Moore distributed quilts to students at St. Joseph Catholic Academy, Kenosha.
“I have personally given away more than 400 quilts,” Moore said. “I love wrapping the quilts around the children, telling them they can feel the love of God through the warmth of the quilt.”
Jane Schindler, whose husband teaches at St. Vincent Pallotti, said the smiles on faces of children receiving the quilts “are amazing.”
“The children are just overwhelmed, because someone they don’t even know is making these quilts for them,” Schindler said. “The smiles on their faces are wonderful.”
Schindler came to know of Bork after coincidently meeting two of her daughters during a trip to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Hope in Champion near Green Bay.
“Quilting is her (Bork’s) life from morning to night,” Schindler said. “Sometimes, if she can’t sleep, she gets up and sews.”
Schindler described Bork’s quilting area as a “room full of stacks of colorful patches of cloth.”
Bork said she uses novelty cloth patches with plenty of colorful images relating to children like trucks, cars, dolls and farm and zoo animals — not only to bring joy to children, but to give them a unique learning tool, helping them to learn colors and shapes.
With lots of help from friends and relatives, Bork’s quilting room turns out up to 50 quilts a week.
“My mother makes the cover sheet with the patches. Someone else makes the backing. We all polish the quilt to make sure, for example, there are enough ties,” Moore said.
Quilting material comes from a variety of sources, including a recent fabric drive by students at St. Mary School, Menomonee Falls.
Moore said family members search rummages and closeout sales for fabric while some people generously donate yards of novelty fabric.
“She gets so excited when she gets new fabric,” Moore said.
A loss of hearing that prevents Bork from answering the phone, as well as unspecified damage to her eyes, has Bork remaining home and seldom participating in quilt distribution.
Bork said her Catholic faith remains important to her.
“When I am making a quilt, I tell God about the quilt,” Bork said. “I tell God this is another quilt for your wee kids. Give them many blessings.”