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Oak Hill & Vicinity: History of the Greenville Quilters

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By Mary Lou Nahas

For Capital Region Independent Media

Greenville Quilters display some of their works at the September meeting.  Contributed photo

Two beloved members of the Greenville Quilters were honored posthumously last month: Doris Vedder and Dottie Hesel. 

Let me tell you about this special group and then about these special women.

The first members of the Greenville Quilters were Pearl Capone, Kathie Williams and Sylvia Wanser, who began to quilt together in 1986 in the Community Room of the Greenville Public Library. The group in a way grew out of the local Home Demonstration Club, which offered courses on things like making bread, canning, making lamp shades and various crafts. 

Pearl Capone, who had been a member of the Greenville Club,  joined the Naples Quilt Guild when she went to Florida one winter. She had never quilted or sewed before, but she loved it.  When she came back to Greenville, she was ready to start a quilting club here.

The group has grown from those three members and continues to meet weekly in the Community Room at the Greenville Library.

Marion Farrenkopf joined the Greenville Quilters in 1990. In 1994, she started a sister group, the Cairo Peacemakers, at the Cairo Library. Marion was inducted into the Catskill Mountain Quilters Hall of Fame in 1998.

There are no dues for the Greenville Quilters — it is a group seeking to learn about and share their interest in the art of quilting. There are no officers or business meetings. They give impromptu workshops when someone learns a new skill and will take any novice quilter under their collective wing. 

“The deep friendships which have formed over the years are as warm and lasting as our quilts,” Pearl Capone said years ago. “Once a member always a member, unless you move away permanently (or die),” it says in the History, which was written in 2011 and a sentiment which is true today.

The group has taken on many projects during the years but one that continues is to make quilts to raffle for the benefit of the Greenville Library, which is their home. In 1993, a Dresden Plate Quilt was made and raffled to raise funds for the library expansion. 

The second library raffle quilt was begun by Dottie Hesel in the late 1990s before she joined the club. Dottie took quilting classes at a quilt shop in Grand Gorge, learned the pattern and finished the blocks, and gave them to the club to complete. Dottie said, “That’s the last time I followed a pattern.” From then on, Dottie designed her own quilts, usually drawn from nature and sometimes geometrical, but never from a standard pattern.

The “Almost Spring” quilt. Dottie Hessel’s quilts were not made from traditional quilting patterns but were her own creation, often featuring nature scenes. Contributed photo

Traditions emerged as the club expanded: there was the annual lunch, the December Holiday Party, and the collective quilt. Each year the group chose one pattern and color scheme, each member made a square and at the annual lunch one member would win all of them and make a quilt from them.

The club includes women of all ages and residents of a wide area roughly centered on Greenville: Greenville, Norton Hill, Cairo, East Durham, Cornwallville. The club continues to meet in the Community Room at the Greenville Library, generally on Wednesday afternoons from 1-3 p.m. They have their own storeroom in the basement.

Another custom is the annual fabric challenge. Often people give odd lots of fabric, sometimes unfinished quilt projects and other items to the club. One quilt made this year is a red and green quilt made from fabric donated by Doris Vedder. Sometimes the fabric presents a challenge to the quilters; it may be considered ugly, unusual or just plain. One year, the challenge fabric was a plain beige fabric. How do you design a quilt using only plain beige?

The group often makes quilts to comfort people in the area. 

Doris Vedder joined the group after she retired to keep busy when her husband Frank was at work.  She then got her sister Marie Holland and niece Melinda King to come also. 

Frank Vedder, Doris’s husband; Teree from St. Peter’s Hospital ALS Center; and Marie Holland, Doris’s sister, display the quilt the group made from fabric Doris gave. This quilt was given to the ALS Center. Contributed photo

Doris, the daughter of Donald and Norma Armstrong of Cornwallville, died of ALS last year. She was raised in East Durham and then lived in Norton Hill after marrying Frank Vedder. She graduated from Cairo-Durham High School in 1979, from Columbia-Greene Community College with an RN degree, and from University of Delaware with a Bachelor of Nursing. Doris worked as a public health nurse at Greene County Public Health, where she met and helped many area people. She enjoyed quilting and sewing, so it was natural that she join the Greenville Quilters. 

The St. Peter’s ALS Center supported Doris in her final illness and in September, Teree from there came to a meeting and was presented with a quilt made from fabric donated by Doris to take back to the Center to comfort patients there.

The “Early Spring” quilt, created by Dottie Hesel. Contributed photo

“Dottie” Hesel, born Dec. 22, 1936, grew up in Breakabeen, graduated from Middleburg Central School, and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Music Education from SUNY Potsdam, Class of 1959. She met Larry Hesel at a square dance in Middleburg while he was home on leave from the U.S. Army during the Korean War. They married in the summer of 1959. Dottie worked as a waitress at Ingleside Farm, gave private piano lessons to local children, and was the organist for years at the United Methodist Church of Norton Hill. She worked at Story’s Nursery and then went on to create floral arrangements at Bohne’s Bouquet until she retired.

Enchanted by Native American heritage, she perfected the art of creating corn husk dolls, teaching others her craft. Dottie was an excellent painter and sewer, often making clothing for her girls and herself, including her own wedding dress. Later in life, her creative outlet turned to quilting with the Greenville Quilters.

Dottie’s name is first on the list of those who created the quilt being raffled this year to support the Greenville Library. Doris’s name is there also. When Dottie was in the hospital last year, the quilters sent a “cat quilt” to comfort her there while she was away from her beloved cat at home. Examples of her unique quilts were on display at her memorial service this month.

The Greenville Library Raffle quilt for this year had a fall theme.  On the back of the quilt is stitched the names of those who made it.  First name on the list is Dottie Hessel and Doris Vedder’s name is not far behind. Contributed photo

These are indeed special ladies and this is a special group. If you have an interest in quilting or would like to learn you might want to join them at the Greenville Library. 

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