Seniors blanket Sandy survivors

Woman, 91, at Corvallis complex leads effort to make quilts, afghans

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CORVALLIS, Ore. — In an apartment full of books, handcrafts and memories, Eleanor Otley is making a gift for a stranger. The machine-stitched quilt of lavender and blue is ready now for the batting — the filling sewn between the quilt's top and its backing. It's what gives the quilt its loft and warmth.

Since 2001, Otley has lived at The Regent, an apartment complex for seniors on Elks Drive. The quilt under construction in her apartment is the sixth that she has made in recent months.

"There are five finished large quilts, two afghans and two baby quilts," she said. Others made the afghans, inspired by her generosity in reaction to Hurricane Sandy. The Category 2 storm destroyed portions of the Caribbean before slamming into some of the most populated sections of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States in late October. In its wake, it left 253 people dead and damage estimated at more than $65.6 billion.

Otley's heart went out to them. At 91, her fingers no longer are capable of intricate stitching, but she wanted to create something warm, colorful and pretty for people who'd suffered losses.

"I really felt for those people," she said. "They lost all their household goods. How can you make do?"

She did more than make do; she and her late husband, George, worked hard during their 53-year-marriage so that their family was provided for.

Until his death in 2000, they lived near Baker and Richland, Ore. ("Not the one in Washington"), where George worked in sawmills while she taught grade school for 30 years and they brought up their children.

It was unusual for a woman to continue working after marriage back then, but Otley said she always was practical and frugal. Although she was a busy wife, mother and teacher, she always enjoyed quilting.

An intricately hand-sewn star quilt from those days decorates her bed. Quilted pillows make her sofa comfortable; some of her handiwork is framed.

The large quilt top that she's working on takes up two shoved-together library-style tables in her living room. It features a "Sunbonnet Sue" design and flowers — perfect for a girl whose favorite color is lavender.

Other residents at the Regent who heard about her Hurricane Sandy project turned their talents to the task, as well. Some crocheted afghans; others helped tie the yarn knots that secure the layers of the quilt together.

When the last one is finished, Otley will ship the lot to a quilters' organization in New Jersey that will distribute the gifts through the Red Cross. She is a little concerned about the cost. She also shipped handmade quilts to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and she had help making them from the Philomath Quilt Guild.

"And that time, some anonymous donor stopped in and paid for the postage; it is expensive!"

This time, she bought the batting — herself, at a cost of more than $100 for a large roll. Although sending the package will be tough on her budget, she is moving ahead.

"I put a label on the back and sewed it on," she said. That way, the quilt's new owner will know that someone in Oregon cared and wanted to help.