Strippers honor vets
September 21, 2023
The River City Strippers have gathered at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Cathlamet every Friday for years to piece together quilts and the stories of their lives, sharing fabric, sewing tips, quilting ideas, gossip and, yes, one admitted: to talk about their husbands.
The hours they've spent in communion is not only a benefit to them but to the community. The quilters have been quietly handing out their creations to people in the community who are hurting. Perhaps to someone who recently lost a loved one, or another who has gotten a grim diagnosis from the doctor, or a mother who participates in the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) program, which helps put food on tables in low income homes.
"We give them out when people need comfort," Cheryl Spalding said. Spalding sewed for years before taking up quilting in 2005. When she and her husband moved to Cathlamet in 2008, she found the River City Strippers. Two of Spalding's quilts are on display and for sale in Jabbershack Wahkiakum on Main Street.
One quilter in their ranks, Esther Roche, along with a friend from Lacey, were appointed chairpersons for a special project three years ago for Honor Flight, a program that flies veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials. Roche and her friend decided to make patriotic quilts, of course.
The men and women who participate in Honor Flight come home to much fanfare.
"They have a wonderful ceremony," Roche said. "They each get escorted off the plane by active duty military. They can be in their dress blues or their khakis, it doesn't matter. They come through a bunch of people holding flags down to baggage claim. Then they have the bagpipers. We are at the very end. We welcome them home and give them a quilt."
The veterans were so pleased with the unique, handmade quilts that participants were hunting down Roche and her friend with letters and phone calls, just to say thank you.
"It was crazy," Roche said.
The response inspired the pair to keep making quilts for every Honor Flight trip. The first time they received donations from all over the state, but after that the two of them were making 50 quilts every six months.
"That's how I got everyone else involved," Roche laughed, as she looked around the room at her friends.
"Several of us jumped in. We decided we would help her make her quota," Spalding said.
"The first time I was at the airport and I saw the guys coming off the plane, it made me cry," Wanda Rockford said. She's been quilting for 30 to 40 years and was busy deciding whether to turn a pattern into one quilt or four on Friday when I caught up with her.
Susan Early sat next to her friend Margaret Sears. Sears hand stitches everything, and was repairing her drapes while Early worked on a colorful quilt.
It really brought home how important these Fridays were to the women, as a source of connection, of comfort, conversation, and laughter. Quilting was a bonus.
Jean Perry travels from Longview on the Wahkiakum on the Move bus to attend every week. She sat across the room, joining her piecing, batting, and backing on a large table. She's been quilting for about 20 years and joined the group after meeting a member at church.
"I've never thought of myself as artistic, but I can do this," she said, looking down at her quilt, a kaleidoscope of bright colors.
On Friday, October 6 from 1-6 p.m., River City Strippers will present an Evening of Tradition at River Mile 38 Brewery. The patriotic quilts will be on display at the taproom before they are delivered to the next participants of Honor Flight. Donations will be accepted, and will support the quilting group's continued efforts to make quilts for the program.