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Kenmare creates ties that bind . . . Ron McNeiley of Kenmare
displays the handcrafted Love Quilt he received from former
Kenmare resident Helen (Kirchner) Meeker, now of Puyallup, WA.
Helen read about Ron's battle with Churg-Strauss Syndrome
and made the quilt as a way to join the Kenmare community
in support of the McNeiley family.
By Caroline Downs
Helen Meeker, the daughter of William and Gertie Kirchner, grew up on a farmstead west of Kenmare and graduated from KHS in 1950. She left the area as a young bride in 1953, following her new husband back to his home state of Washington.
Despite living and raising her family out there for nearly 60 years, though, Helen keeps a close eye on events back in Kenmare.
“Kenmare is home,” she said as she named some of her relatives and close friends who still live here.
Those ties to her hometown are renewed each week when she reads the latest issue of The Kenmare News sent to her Puyallup, WA address. In fact, the ties to Kenmare remain so strong that a recent story published in the paper prompted her to reach out to a current resident she has never met.
“It said in the article that the community was behind him,” Helen said. “I consider Kenmare to be home, and I’m part of the community.”
The article that caught Helen’s eye featured the Ron and Tami McNeiley family, with details about Ron’s struggles with the rare Churg-Strauss Syndrome and the disease’s impact on his wife and children.
CSS is a rare autoimmune disorder marked by inflammation of small to medium-sized blood vessels in the body. The inflammation can restrict blood flow to vital organs and tissues, causing temporary and permanent damage. Diagnosis and treatment are difficult, at best. Among other symptoms through much of the fall and winter, Ron lived with intense pain in his right leg and foot that prevented him from taking even a few steps, much less leaving his home or working at his job.
The family’s situation and the outpouring of support shown by friends and strangers alike inspired Helen to send Ron one of her handcrafted quilts, in hues of brown, cream and gold.
An embroidered tag sewn to the backing read “Love Quilt Made Especially for Ron, Helen & Lois, 2013.”
Lois is Helen’s daughter-in-law, who quilts the finished product. The two women join efforts on Love Quilts each year. “I got involved in doing those with the [quilters’] guild I belong to here,” Helen said.
Her Love Quilts have gone to wounded service members, the six children of a soldier who made a surprise visit to his kids’ school after returning from a deployment, and an individual and his family living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), the same disease that recently claimed the life of Helen’s husband.
She has sent other Love Quilts to two Medal of Honor recipients, including Clinton Romesha of Minot, and to friends in Kenmare and Stanley.
Helen and the quilters in the local guild also sew quilts for a rehabilitation house in their community, with a new quilt prepared for each bed and houseguests expected to take the quilts with them when they leave the facility.
“I do some for my family, too,” Helen said about her quilting, “and I have a collection of personal quilts.”
She started quilting about the same time her husband retired, and has spent over 25 years creating with fabric. “I’ve done quite a few,” she said, laughing.
Helen sent the quilt designed for Ron McNeiley to The Kenmare News office, where staff members arranged to deliver the gift. Ron was surprised and touched by Helen’s generosity. “This will go great in our camper,” he said as he admired Helen’s work.
Joining his family on camping outings again will be a major event for Ron this summer after being confined to his home and bed with pain and other Churg-Strauss Syndrome symptoms for much of the past year.
These days, however, Ron is feeling better. He had surgery at Mayo Clinic a few weeks ago for nerves and pain in his right leg and foot. “When I woke up from that surgery, I stood up straight for the first time in months,” he said, “and the leg pain is finally gone.”
He admitted his body was still recovering from the impact, but the nerves are more responsive than they have been for months and he can move without the walker or cane he has relied on since last fall.
In fact, he returned to his job at Farmers Union Oil Company on a part-time basis. “My boss said to work as many hours as I could each week,” Ron said. “It’s all kind of depending on how the right foot goes.”
He continues to manage the expected flare-ups of the disease with medication, and he hopes to start taking a new, experimental drug for treatment later this spring.
“It was kind of a rough go there for a few months,” he said, “but it seems to be holding good now. There’s light at the end of the tunnel anyway.”
A bit of that light was shared through Helen’s quilt. “I hope this brings the community together,” she said. “It was a thrill to create that quilt for Ron!”