Memorial Quilt: Piece By Piece, Ladies Sew Bonds with Sandy Hook
Grace McDonnell was 7 years old when she painted her watercolor of an owl. She was 7 years old when she died in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre two months ago.
Today, her picture, given to President Obama when he visited the families of those victims, is in his private study off the Oval Office.
Her grand-uncle, Paul Dunn, visited Carthage United Methodist Church on Wednesday afternoon, where he met the quilters who are memorializing Grace and the 25 others who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December.
Quilter Nancy Copeland had invited Paul and B.J. Dunn after reading a newspaper column Paul Dunn had written.
"I thought you might like to know that a group of women and myself are in the process of completing a memory quilt for the Sandy Hook students and teachers who were killed," she said. "I know your grand-niece Grace was one of them and she has her very own block in the quilt. We took what information we could find about each of the victims from the Internet and a magazine, and designed each person's square around their likes."
The quilt, nearly complete, was spread out on a wide table in the church basement. Blocks for the principal and teachers are above and below 20 blocks - one for each of the eight boys and 12 girls who died. On each block are images and icons of their favorite things.
"Daniel, 7" liked "riding summer waves, playing drums" and "wanted to be a firefighter."
Madeleine Hsu, 6, loved her golden retriever and sunny floral dresses. Catherine Hubbard, 6, liked pink and loved pets, wanted Santa to bring a pair of fish. Chase Kowalski, 7, liked bicycles and baseball, wanted his two teeth back. Josephine Gay, 7, liked purple, Barbie dolls, swimming, singing and her lemonade stand. Six-year-old Jesse Lewis liked horseback riding.
Grace McDonnell was "becoming an artist" and liked "playing dress up" and wearing "grandma's jewelry," the women's notes said.
The Dunns looked carefully over the pieced-together quilt, finally moving to its other side to pick up Grace's block and examine it before carefully replacing it in its place among the others.
"It was right after the massacre," Copeland, a retired teacher, said. "That whole weekend I was watching TV in horror - as a parent and as a teacher - and couldn't think of anything I could do."
She keeps a therapy dog and visits local hospitals, but she couldn't drive to Connecticut.
"I know how to quilt, and I had this idea," she said. "The idea is a square for each one of the victims with things that were important in their lives, children and teachers. I got on the Internet and found something about each one of them."
Dunn told the quilters about Grace and her parents. He spoke of their beautiful home in peaceful, quiet Newtown where nothing happens - until this thing.
"They swim, they bike," he said. "They have a son, Jack, probably about 12 and in a different school. He'd been in this school maybe up until last year. He's having a difficult time with this. Grace's middle name was Audrey - named after my mother, who was a gifted painter - and she was talented. When the president went up to meet with them, Grace's father presented him with the owl, which he keeps in his private office to remind him."
The little girl loved the sea, and did a lot of paintings by the shore.
"My sister, who is Grace's grandmother, goes over to visit," Dunn said. "But she gets very depressed going over there."
The quilt, when finished, will probably be sent to the superintendent of schools in Newtown for a decision as to where it should go.
"We will write a preliminary letter to say it's coming," Copeland said. "Then they can decide about it. We want them to know that people are thinking about them."
Quilters there to meet the Dunns included Dora Maness, Kay Simpson, Carrie Bower, Joyce Thomason, JoAnn Boron, Liz Hemming, June Pernice and Gail Nelson.
Dunn said Grace's mother gets 1,000 letters a week, and answers every one.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell @gmail.com.
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