17 February 2009

Beverly and the quilters of Iowa: Connecting with the heartland

Betty Nielsen of Fonda, IA did not know anyone who died on 9-11, but she was strongly driven after that day to do something for the survivors. She established Freedom Quilts to provide the comfort and warmth of hand-stitched quilts, and the sympathy and love of their creators to the family members who had lost a loved one in New York, Shanksville and Arlington. (Her group later expanded donations of quilts to families of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

When Betty and her husband Dennis travelled in the winter of 2003 to deliver quilts to 9-11 family members in Connecticut, Beverly offered them her legendary warm hospitality, and, along with Mary Fetchet, helped the Nielsens in their selfless mission. When Betty Nielsen learned of Beverly's death, she wrote a moving letter to a friend, saying that her heart was broken, because for the first time since she started her project, she could say that she had lost someone connected to 9-11 that she cared about, "a dear friend" who had touched the lives of so many.

It is true that the attacks fell heaviest on this country's East Coast. But on 9-11 there arose in the hearts of millions of Americans everywhere a sense that we are one. These human ties -- connecting souls from Stamford to Slidell to Fonda -- bind us all more tightly than any anthem or passport or flag.

[Photo of Betty Nielsen and Lee Ielpi, father of firefighter Jonathan, who was killed on 9-11.]

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