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Quilts of Valor cover Owatonna vets

quilts of valor, steele county
U.S. Navy Veteran Michael Meyer, center, bows his head as Owatonna Exchange Club member April Paxton, left, and Meyer’s nominator Wayne Starman drape a Quilt of Valor across his shoulders. There were five members in the club’s first class of quilt recipients. Staff photo by Joni Hubred
Joni Hubred, News Editor

A year ago, April Paxton asked the Exchange Club of Owatonna to pick up a program that honors veterans and active-duty military members with handmade quilts, as a thank you for their service.

Last Thursday, five Owatonna area veterans received theirs during the community’s first Quilts of Valor event:

  • Rene Gilormini – Sr. Sergeant, U.S. Army, 1979-2004
  • Steven Carroll – Sr. Airman, U.S. Air Force, 1989-1992
  • Scott Lundberg – Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, 1988-2009
  • Michael Meyer – Petty Officer First Class, U.S. Navy, 1979-1999
  • John Iverson – Sergeant, U.S. Army, 1969-1972

The five quilts, each with a patriotic theme, were made by Debora Ellingson, Bev Wacek, Lynda Paxton, Marva Hosfield, Dee Springman, Joan Robbins, and Judith Weineke.

The national initiative founded by an Illinois serviceman’s mother delivered its 300,000th quilt in April.

During the event, Paxton shared the emotional story of how the Quilts of Valor program was founded “with a dream, literally a dream” experienced by Illinois military mom Catherine Roberts, while her son was deployed in Iraq in 2003.

Roberts saw a young man in “utter despair” whose demeanor changed to one of hope and well-being when he was wrapped in a quilt. She saw a volunteer team making the quilt, and she saw the name, Quilts of Valor.

“To her, Quilts of Valor would be the civilian equivalent of a Purple Heart award,” Paxton said. “A Quilt of Valor would say unequivocally, thank you for your service, sacrifice, and valor in serving our nation.”

Like the medal given to soldiers wounded in battle, quilts are awarded, not simply given out. So for each of Thursday’s recipients, a nominator talked about why they felt the recipient should receive a Quilt of Valor.

Jannell Tufte nominated Gilormini, who she got to know 15 years ago while working on a veteran’s home loan. He has worked since 2005 as director of veterans’ services for Steele County and helps her often with VA loans.

“When I learned about the Quilt of Valor program, I knew immediately I wanted to nominate Rene,” Tufte said. “I also knew immediately I would be in big trouble.”

Gilormini served during the Persian War, Gulf War, Desert Storm, and Cold War, and received several honors and medals, Tufte said. His wife Bridget has also served in the U.S. Air Force.

Sandra McConn Halla nominated Carroll, who she has known for around 10 years. As a security specialist during the Cold War, she said, Carroll had to maintain a constant state of readiness.

As part of the Owatonna community, Halla said, Carroll is “always so caring and cares about the children in our community and everything that we can do to help, he is always the first one to volunteer.”

Nominator Dallas Ketchum said Lundberg enlisted because he learned the Army Reserves would help pay for his college debt. His unit was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sadly, Lundberg’s unit suffered heavy casualties during “the largest Army ambush of American troops in the war in Iraq” in April of 2004.

“Scott was not out on that delivery, but the danger and loss of life became a reality for him at that point, as many did not return that were friends and fellow soldiers,” Ketchum said.

In nominating Michael Meyer and John Iverson, Wayne Starman said he met both while serving with the Owatonna VFW and American Legion Color Guard.

Meyer, Starman said, served in the Seabees, the Navy’s construction arm, and worked on construction of camps, bridges, and other structures. He has been active in the VFW and American Legion locally and at the state level, co-chairs Owatonna’s Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday dinners, and is a special deputy with the Sheriff’s Department.

Iverson served during the Viet Nam war as a squad leader with the Signal Brigade for the First Cavalry Division, bringing troops into forward areas to send back coordinates for troops firing guns and mortar rounds, Starman said. He worked for the Steele Waseca Cooperative as a lineman and now lives in Medford, where he has been involved with the Veterans Memorial committee. 

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