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Faces: Quilting for a cause - Potts uses talents to give back to veterans

Patty Potts, of Baxter, shows off one of the many quilts she has handmade for veterans. After knowing many who have died or suffered from the effects of war, quilting is Potts’ way to give back. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal1 / 2
Patty Potts, of Baxter, shows off one of the many quilts she has handmade for veterans. After knowing many who have died or suffered from the effects of war, quilting is Potts’ way to give back. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal 2 / 2

Quilting is how one local woman uses her skills to thank and support veterans in her community.

"Everything I do is for the veterans," said Patty Potts, of Baxter.

Potts, who lived in Merrifield for 25 years until 2016, has a personal connection to those who have served in the military.

"My whole family was in the service, and they've been in all the wars since the Vietnam War," she said, adding that she had family in World War II as well.

Because of these connections, Potts has seen firsthand how the combat they've seen affects veterans.

Before moving to the lakes area, Potts grew up in an orphanage in South Carolina. She had several orphan brothers who served in the military, one of whom - Richard - she was especially close with.

"He was in Vietnam, and he never let go of that," Potts said of Richard. "He never felt that anybody cared, and he wasn't welcomed home or anything. And he committed suicide about five years ago."

Richard's death was hard on Potts, who has since found a way to tell other veterans that she appreciates all their sacrifices.

The quilting started about three years ago, when Potts became tasked with caring for her husband, Clyde, who has the beginnings of dementia. He is also a veteran.

"I'm caregiver, so I'm home all the time, and I was going nuts. So I had to do something for sanity reasons," Potts joked.

She began her crafting by making quilts for her grandkids and great-grandkids. About a year later, she turned her energy to veterans. Since then, she has made and gifted 74 unique, personalized quilts to veterans.

"I just decided I wanted to do something for veterans, and that's what I did," Potts said. "All I ask of them is to take a picture and send it to me."

A photo album with all of those pictures pays testament to her hard work and the recipients' happy faces.

"Most of the people I've given these to have hung them on their wall," she said.

The walls of the houses in Potts' homeowners association are proof.

"We have 30 units, and out of the 30 units, there's 12 veterans," she said. "So I made every single one of them a quilt."

Some of her projects have been more personal, like the quilts she made for her grandson, who was wounded in Afghanistan, and the 10 men who were with him.

"It's so nice to get to meet those guys," Potts said.

Not all of the quilter's projects go to veterans she knows though, as she also works with Quilts of Valor, an organization that donates handmade quilts to veterans who were wounded both physically and psychologically.

"All those quilts are donated fabric. And they can be any color, any fabric, anything. And they provide the material and the topstitching and everything," Potts said. "I've done probably 64 of those."

As Potts continues to work on veteran quilts, she recently chose an additional group of recipients as well - police officers.

"The police were getting such a bad rap," she said. "My ex-son-in-law is a policeman in Cambridge, so I made his first."

Four more police officer quilts followed, including two for local men - Crosslake Police Chief Erik Lee and former Crosslake Chief Bob Hartman, both of whom Potts knows personally.

"And they were totally shocked," she said of Hartman and Lee's responses to the quilts. "On Bob Hartman's I put, 'Happy Retirement' ... and then 'Thank you for your service' and 'Crosslake Police.' ... On Erik's I put, 'Your Life Matters.' And I thanked him for his service too."

Potts receives help with topstitching and customization on her quilts from Mother Originals Quilt Shop in Pequot Lakes, Colorz Quilt Shop in Baxter and Paola Sederquist at Seder Quilts in Brainerd.

When she isn't quilting, Potts uses her crafting abilities to transform pillow cases into dresses that she donates mostly to churches with overseas missions.

"They turn out just absolutely cute," she said of the dresses that go to girls in need of clothes both locally and in other countries. "When I get tired of quilting, I'll work on this for a little bit."

So far, she has donated 306 dresses.

Any scraps from Potts' quilting and dress projects get used to make hotpads.

"I don't waste anything," she said.

Even though Potts spends time on dresses and hotpads, her true passion is honoring veterans with her quilts. She doesn't require payment for any of her work; the reactions received from those touched by her quilts is enough.

"One of the guys I made for, he had a Purple Heart. And he was so touched by that quilt, he wanted to give me his Purple Heart. I said to him, 'Absolutely not.' He said, 'You don't know how much this means to me.' The guys from Vietnam ... they've never been able to give it up because they went through so much and weren't welcomed back when they came," she said. "The love that I have gotten from these guys when I give them their quilt, you wouldn't believe what 'Thank you for your service' means to them."

Potts' only regret is the one veteran she didn't get to make a quilt for.

"When Richard committed suicide, it was just devastating," she said. "And I didn't get to make him a quilt. ... He would have been proud of that quilt."