Preserving memories, stitch by stitch

October 29, 2003

Dottie Goldmeier's quilt of memories was honored in a public ceremony last week at Owen Brown Place. The quilt, "Affirming Life," contains 20 squares. Each illustrates a story from the life of one of the 20 disabled seniors who spend their mornings at the Owen Brown Senior Center Plus program.

"I think ... eliciting this reminiscing process is so worthwhile - it's honoring these people's lives," said Goldmeier, a longtime resident of Harper's Choice.

Honoring life was the theme of the quilting project, which grew out of a meeting at the Columbia Swim Center between Goldmeier and Vivi Provine, director of the senior program. Goldmeier was mourning the death of her husband, John Goldmeier, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. His specialty was working with the elderly.

Dottie Goldmeier, who taught children with special needs, had made a quilted book as a tribute to her husband's professional life. So Provine invited her to work with the disabled seniors at Owen Brown Place.

"That's how I truly believe we heal, is when we're in pain to reach out to someone else," Provine said.

"The first few sessions, I just sat there and tried to absorb, like a good teacher does," Goldmeier said. Then she met privately with each senior, heard their stories and wrote them down. Fellow quilters from the Faithful Circle Quilters Guild, of which Goldmeier is a member, donated fabric. The seniors chose images to illustrate their stories, and Goldmeier sewed them into the quilt.

"With each stitch, it was like a healing process for her," Provine said.

John Goldmeier knew the value of life: As a child he escaped the Holocaust on a Kindertransport to England. The seniors understand loss: Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke and depression are familiar to them, Provine said. Most live in group homes, none can drive a car, and many need help to eat, dress and bathe.

Bertis Jones, who lost her North Carolina home in a flood, chose the image of a house for her square; Claude Robinson's design used ties he had kept since 1945. Several of the ties in his square, arranged like flowers in what quilters call a Dresden plate design, were John Goldmeier's.

At the celebration Thursday, Howard County Executive James N. Robey dedicated the quilt in the name of Katherine Langguth, a senior who died last month, to the Owen Brown Senior Center Plus. Jesse J. Harris, dean of the School of Social Work and a former student of John Goldmeier's, was an honored guest, Dottie Goldmeier said. The seniors each received a book with a photograph of their square and the finished quilt, and a copy of their story.

"That's what it's about," Goldmeier said. "It's not the fanfares. It's just the people connecting to something that was important in their lives. ... By saying, `Your life is precious,' I was enabled to affirm my life again."

- Fay Lande

PBS tapes documentary at Harper's Choice school

The Public Broadcasting System taped a segment of the documentary Climate Change at Harper's Choice Middle School on Friday.

Harper's Choice was chosen because of the school's Energy Alliance Club, a participant in the national Green Schools program, which is sponsored by the Alliance to Save Energy. The club's goal is to find ways to reduce school energy costs and home use, and to engage schoolchildren in environmental education through hands-on projects.

"We're very proud that they chose us to come and film. They've been all over the world interviewing scientists," said teacher's secretary Michelle Lamon. The documentary is to be broadcast next year.

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