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Rising from the ashes

Quilting group that lost its supplies in a church blaze planning to start again

posted Nov. 4, 2016 11:37 p.m. | updated Nov. 5, 2016 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Christena T. O’Brien

  • fls_Church_2a_092316
    Staff file photo by Dan Reiland | Enlarge
    - An early morning fire destroyed most of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, 2010 Moholt Drive on Sept. 22. The blaze displaced the congregation and a group that has quilted at the church for at least two decades.
  • David Huber

More than a section of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ went up in smoke on Sept. 22.

The blaze, which broke out during the early morning hours, destroyed 14 quilts, fabric, two sewing machines and other supplies used by a quilting group that has been around for at least 20 years.

But the members, who have been sitting idle since the fire, are expected to move into their new temporary space at Grace Lutheran Church this coming week.

“I think they’re excited,” said the Rev. David Huber Wednesday. “The room has been cleaned out, vacuumed and dusted. On Friday, we’re going to go shopping for new sewing machines and other stuff, so they can get quilting again next week.”

First Congregational United Church of Christ in Menomonie donated some fabric to the group, and Western Dairyland, whose clients benefit from the quilts, planned to take up a collection for supplies for the quilters. Donations of fabric, other sewing supplies and cash also are being accepted in Plymouth Congregational’s temporary offices at Grace Lutheran.

“The quilts go to help a lot of people,” Huber said. “The (members of the group) make sure they do a really nice job.”

Dorothy Kruschke of Eau Claire has been involved in the quilting group for at least 20 years.

“It’s nice to get together in this group,” said Kruschke, who has been quilting for about 25 years. “We bring a sack lunch, visit and quilt.”

The group of eight women, who range in age from 39 to 93, got together from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday at Plymouth Congregational, where they stored all of their supplies, including a 60-yard roll of batting.

“Oh, we lost so much stuff in the fire,” said Kruschke, adding items from a thrift sale at the church also were lost. “My granddaughter called to tell me about the fire. It was a real shocker.”

The Eau Claire Fire Department was called to the church, 2010 Moholt Drive, at 1:20 a.m. on Sept. 22. The first arriving firefighters saw turbulent, black smoke and fire coming through the roof, and a large section of the roof had collapsed.

“We lost everything we had,” said V. June Bartilson of rural Chippewa Falls. “We had made only one quilt off the batting. We were just sick about that.”

A member of Truax Congregational United Church of Christ, Bartilson has been a quilter for 20 years and a member of the Plymouth group for that long. In addition to the quilts she’s helped sew at the church, she’s made many for gifts.

“Everyone in my family probably has a half dozen quilts,” she said, chuckling. “I’m anxious for us to get back at it.”

Kruschke, who sews most of the quilt tops, believes the room at Grace Lutheran will be adequate for herself and the others to continue their quilting. In addition to that room and office space, Grace also is allowing Plymouth Congregational the use of its chapel.

While the fire didn’t destroy the entire church, it is considered a total lost, Huber said, but his congregation plans to demolish the remnants of the old structure and build a new house of worship on the land.

“There is some opportunity in that,” he said. “We are now free to redesign (the church) and make it more green and energy-efficient.”

Huber is hopeful his congregation can be attending worship in the new church a year from now, and members of the quilting group are eager to return to Plymouth too.

“All of the quilts we make stay right here in the area,” Bartilson said, noting the group’s finished handiwork goes to people staying in homeless shelters. “At least when they leave (the shelters), they have something to take with them.”

The group has gotten a lot of nice thank-you notes over the years, Kruschke said. But that’s not why she and the others continue to meet and quilt.

“It’s good fellowship, and we’re doing something good,” Bartilson said.

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