- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) - The black body bag on the gurney had a gruesome, stark look to it.

Renee Baird, a hospice nurse in Roseburg, didn’t like the look.

“It hurt my feelings a little bit,” she said. “I felt it was really important to have something nicer over a person, rather than a generic cover. It needed to be something different.”

Baird, a serious quilter for about 10 years, decided she could put that skill to work to provide a more comforting cover. She measured a gurney and made her first quilt for this purpose in 2006. She donated the quilt to a Roseburg funeral home and asked that it be used and reused when transporting those who had died.

“She saw the need that families needed to be comforted at these times,” Charlie Weckerle, owner of Country Lady Quilt Shop in Roseburg, said of Baird. “It was a tremendous idea that Renee started. She started doing the quilts quietly.”

But when Baird brought her completed quilt patterns into the shop to have them quilted with matting, Weckerle inquired about the purpose of the quilts. After hearing the answer, Weckerle said the shop would donate the batting and quilting time.

“She was paying for everything,” Weckerle said of Baird. “It is something that needs to be done and it’s a community service project that we wanted to help with.”

“It became a collaborative effort,” Baird said.

Over a few years, 10 quilts were made and distributed to the different Roseburg area funeral homes. The quilts are 50 inches by 95 inches and hang 6 to 8 inches down over the gurney.

“It makes a very terrible situation more bearable,” Baird said of the quilts being used at a sad time. “They make it not quite so bad.”

But then for Baird, quilting was put on the back shelf four years ago when she returned to school to upgrade her nursing skills. And after finishing her latest round of schooling, she took a job as a nurse practitioner late last year in Salem where she is closer to her children and grandchildren.

The quilt project that she had started didn’t end, however. Jeanne Eggers, an employee at Country Lady who had helped finish those early quilts that Baird brought in, and Weckerle continued to make quilts.

The importance of those quilts was emphasized even more to the women by recent events. On a television news segment about the Oct. 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College, Weckerle saw three of the quilts draped over bodies on gurneys. And when Eggers’ mother died, the funeral home that came for the body used one of the quilts.

“To see a loved one closed up in a black bag, that’s a startling moment,” Eggers said. “But when the man put a quilt over the bag, I recognized that quilt. It was a nice moment, to have that bag covered by a beautiful quilt.”

Eggers and her husband Otto Eggers, a retired veterinarian, have taken over the leadership on the quilt project that Baird started.

Otto Eggers, who began quilting after retiring from vet work in 2007, assembles and designs the quilt tops and sews the pieces together. Jeanne Eggers then adds the batting and quilts them.

“He’s precise,” she said of her husband. “As a surgeon on animals, he had to be precise and he’s carried that precision over to his sewing and it has worked out.”

Otto Eggers said during his working career he was too busy to do community service, but now has the time to give back.

Almost 30 quilts have now been made and donated to central Douglas County funeral homes. Tie downs have also been added to the corners of the quilts so they won’t blow off if conditions are windy.

Following a request for a patriotic quilt for use over veterans, the latest creations have featured the U.S. flag. Weckerle researched the flag and came up with proportional dimensions of the stars and stripes for the size of the quilt. She has since drawn, cut out, set and sewn seven sets of stars for seven quilts. Each set of 50 stars has taken her about six hours.

“It’s a public service that makes a lot of people happy,” Weckerle said of the comforting quilts.

Jeanne Eggers said the goal is to provide each funeral home with four quilts: for a male, a female, a patriot and for a child or baby.

“This is a continuation of what Renee started as a community service,” Jeanne Eggers said. “This is a softening of that moment when we have to see a love one take that journey; maybe make that moment a little bit easier for them to take. It did for me.

“Even for people we don’t know, hopefully it’ll lighten their load at that critical moment,” she added.

___

Information from: The News-Review, https://www.nrtoday.com

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