For Eugene and Bernice Brah, generosity and collaboration define their 67-year marriage.
“All our years of marriage have been working together,” Bernice said.
These qualities are abundantly evident in their 50-year ministry making handmade quilts for families in need.
The Brahs’ love story begins in 1945. They met at Bobby Sock Night at the Eagle Ballroom in downtown Milwaukee, right after Eugene returned from a tour of duty in Africa during World War II.
Eugene asked Bernice to dance, and two days later, they were engaged.
The Brahs settled in West Allis and became parishioners at St. Therese Parish, Milwaukee. Eugene worked as a fireman, and Bernice later returned to school and became a licensed practical nurse.
When their fourth child was born, she was significantly premature and weighed only three pounds. The Brahs prayed for a miracle.
As their daughter grew into a healthy baby, they wanted to express their gratitude to God for the gift of her health.
They found this expression by becoming foster parents. Ten infants found a loving, temporary home with the Brahs while waiting for permanent adoptive families, and one, John, found a permanent home through adoption.
When each baby was brought to the Brahs’ home, the hospital sent along a number of blankets of various sizes. These blankets accumulated at the Brahs’ home, and they wanted to find a good way to make use of them. Their solution was to cut the blankets into quilt squares and craft them into simple quilts that could then be donated to organizations that could distribute them to families in need.
|The Brahs welcom donations of new material to be used for making quilts or "recyled" pieces such as drapery or blankets to be used for stuffing. For information on donating sewing materials, call your Catholic Herald (414) 769-3476|
That was 50 years ago, and a solution to clutter has become a life’s work.
“It’s a hobby that has kind of become an obsession,” Bernice laughed. “I really don’t know where I have found the time – but the time is always there.”
Last year alone, the Brahs completed 164 quilts, and they have already surpassed that number this year.
The quilts are made with new material, all of which is donated by the many friends of their ministry who hear about them by word of mouth.
Their simple, collaborative process has become second nature: Eugene does most of the trimming, assembling and ironing, and Bernice does the sewing. They sometimes get help from their neighbors in the knitting group at Heritage Senior Living.
At any given time, the Brahs might have a dozen quilts, each in various stages of completion, draped over various surfaces in their apartment.
The quilt styles depend on the materials donated: a recent donation of fabric with whimsical prints led the Brahs to create a number of reversible quilts for children, with different playful patterns such as fire trucks and polka dots.
Bernice was quick to emphasize they do not make quilts to sell; the Brahs only give their quilts to organizations that give to those in need at no charge.
One of the organizations that receives the bulk of the Brahs’ donated quilts is the Father Gene Help Center in West Allis.
The Help Center was founded in 1969 by Jesuit Fr. Gene Jakubek to provide donated clothing and other items to needy families free of charge. Many of the clothing packages given out at the Help Center include a full set of bedding, often accompanied by a quilt made by the Brahs. The Help Center serves the metro Milwaukee area and is run by volunteers.
Deacon Don Borkowski, the Help Center’s executive director for 20 years, and deacon at St. Jude the Apostle Parish, Wauwatosa, has known the Brahs for many years through their connection with the Help Center. He’s also acquainted with their son, Deacon Eugene Brah, a deacon of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“I never know when they are coming, but they are always welcomed,” Deacon Borkowski said of the quilt-making couple. “I see their faith reflected in how happy they are to be of help. They are so personable, so caring, and so sensitive to the needs of others.”
Bernice praised the Help Center’s work and values their collaboration.
“It’s a very giving place, and the volunteers are just tremendous,” she said.
Other organizations that receive the quilts include the House of Peace and the Milwaukee Rescue Mission.
“There are children who are cold – and no child should ever be cold,” Bernice said simply.
The Brahs have never met a recipient of one of their quilts, but experienced the impact their gifts have on the families who receive them. When stopping at Father Gene’s Help Center to drop off their latest handiwork several years ago, they saw a man and a young girl leaving the center holding one of their quilts.
As they passed, they heard the girl say, “Tonight, we’re going to be warm, Papa.”