- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - It’s not uncommon to see bikers take on projects for a good cause. It’s perhaps less common for a biker to take on quilting for a cause.

But that’s exactly what Dennis Joynt did. He and his wife, Lynn, spend much of their time sewing quilts to donate to military veterans.

The Joynts are retired, and they volunteer for Quilts of Valor, an organization that donates handmade quilts to veterans who have been touched by war.

Dennis is a U.S. Navy veteran himself. He was in the Navy from November 1968 to November 1974 and was a deep-sea diver in the Vietnam War.

The Joynts also make quilts for the Final Salute at the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, reported the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (https://bit.ly/2lcMjjt).

“I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from the service, so to me it’s calming - it’s soothing. I can daydream and concentrate on other vets,” Dennis said.

He might spend his quilting time thinking about the veteran who will receive that quilt, even though he doesn’t know them, he said.

Although Lynn did some quilting with her grandmother when she was young, Dennis is the one who first got the pair into quilting as adults.

He explained that his parents gave him some money during Thanksgiving in 2008, and he chose to buy a sewing machine with it.

He wanted the sewing machine to sew patches onto his motorcycle vests, he said. Dennis rides annually with Run for the Wall in May. The run concludes at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and raises funds for prisoners of war and those service members who are missing in action from all wars.

Dennis has a camouflage vest and a closet of leather vests with multitudes of patches representing the years he has completed the run, commemorating prisoners of war and those missing in action, etc.

He said he first took up quilting in 2010 when he made a quilt for his granddaughter. He then had to make quilts for his other grandchildren as well.

“(Lynn) said, ‘You don’t quilt.’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’”

Shortly after, he visited the Kansas Veterans Home in Winfield, Kansas, as the Veterans Affairs coordinator for the American Legion Riders.

“After about three hours with the activity director, I said, ‘Everybody has a military bed, military sheets, military blankets, military this, military that, because it’s government. Nobody has a quilt,’” he said.

The activity director had never heard of Quilts of Valor, so Dennis offered to make quilts for all 103 people in the veterans’ home.

Eventually, Dennis and Lynn managed to make more than 50 quilts for the veterans’ home.

“Then I ended up joining Quilts of Valor,” Dennis said. “And then Lynn ended up joining Quilts of Valor.”

The purpose behind Quilts of Valor is to provide quilts to veterans in the hope that the quilts will provide comfort to those who have experienced so much in the military.

The quilts are heirloom quality because they are awarded to the veteran in thanks for their service.

“Heirloom quality quilts are labeled. They’re labeled with dates, names - information like that,” Lynn said. The quilts also are 100 percent cotton. Quilts of Valor has standards regarding what sort of fabric and batting can be used, as well as what size the quilts must be.

Lynn said, “The Vietnam veterans didn’t get anything. And we don’t ever want to do that again to a serviceman that’s served. They give up a lot, and you and I - we don’t give anything, and we’re safe. They are the ones that put themselves on the line, and in some cases, they lose their life. As a country, those of us who don’t serve need to understand that.”

The Joynts moved last year to Cheyenne, and Lynn said they picked their house specifically because the basement had room to accommodate their long-arm quilting machine.

Dennis said the machine is a used one. It’s about 14 feet long and takes up a large portion of the main room downstairs. It’s a manual machine, but a new one with a computer can cost more than $30,000.

The remaining rooms in the basement are dedicated to quilting as well. Dennis‘ room contains his sewing machine, a Styrofoam quilting design wall and mementos of his parents, son, grandkids and the military.

A second room is designated as Lynn’s sewing room. The room speaks to her love of cats, which adorn every possible space.

A third room serves as storage for Lynn’s quilting fabrics, some sorted by color and others stored in plastic tubs. Quilt batting is stored in a small closet under the stairs.

Lynn said, “For the most part, I’m the one who pulls the fabric and gets the quilts started. He does piece, but I do most of the piecing, and he does the finish-up.”

“Piecing” refers to putting together the smaller pieces of fabric that make up the quilt’s design. Once Lynn finishes the middle, Dennis puts the borders on and does the actual quilting - the stitching over the whole of the quilt - to put the front and back fabric together over the batting in the middle.

“It’s not her project and I’m excluded. It’s not my project and she’s excluded. We do it together,” Dennis said. “Quilting has been a lifeline to both of us.”

The Joynts’ current project is to make 20 quilts for the VA Medical Center’s mental health program. They have about seven quilts lying around their basement in varying stages of completion.

“When the quilt gets done and we hand it over to the mental health unit, it will be done, labeled and washed. Some of these veterans have allergies or sensitivities, and we don’t know who is getting them, so we have to clean them up and make sure they can take the quilt and put it right on their bed,” Lynn said.

Dennis said each quilt takes about 20 to 24 hours to complete between the two of them. Each quilt costs about $200 to $300, he said, and the Joynts pay for the costs mostly out of their own pockets.

“It’s hard to put a price on something. The price is written on the (Vietnam Veterans Memorial). Look at these 53,000 dead. Look at the people that came back in body bags. The price of the quilt is written on the wall,” he said.

Even though making the quilts is expensive, Dennis said he and Lynn always agree that the cost is worthwhile.

Dennis said, “Why do I quilt? For the love of the vets.”


Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com

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