The American quilt has, for generations, captured the spirit and emotions of its creators. An art form born of necessity, the modern quilt has become a vehicle for interpreting our connection between the past and present. The Donate Life community honors that connection through the creation of patchwork quilts. Hundreds of quilts have been made by organ procurement organizations across the country to memorialize the individuals who have passed on the “Gift of Life” to others through organ and tissue donation. Many of them have been made in Delphos, Ohio.
In 1998, Joanie Nijak and Lois Neumeier of the Black Swamp Quilters connected with Lifeline of Ohio, the nonprofit promoting organ and tissue donation in central and southeastern Ohio, at the Canal Days quilt show.
“A representative asked if we’d be willing to make quilts to honor donors,” said Neumeier. “She said it was their dream to have quilts made.”
Nijak and Neumeier, who have more than 70 years of quilting experience between them, agreed to help with the project and created four quilts in their first year. The quilts were a labor of love for the sisters-in-law, who volunteered their time and acquired donated materials from local Wal-Mart stores for the project.
Donor families created the memory squares, including pictures of their loved ones or quotes and symbols that were important to them. Neumeier and Nijak weave dozens of squares together for each quilt, making every panel unique. “It’s amazing to see the people who have donated,” said Neumeier.
The quilt project is especially important to Neumeier, whose mother, Celeste Broecker, received a kidney transplant in 1998. Broecker lived eight more years thanks to a deceased donor, a gift her family cherishes. By volunteering her time to create quilts that honor donors, Neumeier pays that gift forward.
In the past 13 years, Nijak and Neumeier have made 11 quilts for Lifeline of Ohio. Nijak moved to Indiana in 2004 but the two still work together, estimating that each quilt takes three months to complete.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to do this to make people more aware of organ donation,” said Nijak.
Though Lifeline of Ohio’s quilts feature donors from central and southeastern Ohio, they travel from the coast to coast and are so popular, at least one is on display somewhere every day of the year. “We’re hoping people really appreciate them,” said Neumeier.
Donor memorial quilts can be requested for community events and are provided free of charge. To request a quilt for your next event, click here.