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Bowdle woman gifts graduates with special handmade quilts

May 27, 2019

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — For the last 39 years, high school and college graduates in the Bowdle area have received a special gift — a handmade quilt from Jeanne Bieber.

“It’s a good gift. It’s something they can use, and it’s something I do out of love,” Bieber said to the Aberdeen American News. “It’s a handmade gift. Giving something handmade is special. So that’s why I do it.”

Bieber, 67, has been making quilts for area graduates since 1980, she said. In one year, she made as many as 24 quilts, but on average makes about 10 a year. This year, she’ll give out nine quilts, which were freshly completed recently.

“I do them really simple — I take two sheets then put bedding in between and tie them. But everybody seems to like them,” Bieber humbly explained. “I’ve had people tell me ‘I still have mine’ all the time,” she added.

“Back when I first started, it was one of the cheaper gifts you could give. They’re getting more expensive every year, of course. I started giving them to all the kids that graduated with my kids. Now I give them to anyone I get a graduation announcement from,” she said.

“I don’t think the kids really know me, but it’s OK. Some of my great-nieces and nephews, they can’t wait to get my gift because they know they’re going to get a quilt. I had a fella tell me a couple years ago, ‘You know that was the best gift I ever got.’”

“Last year I did 14, then I had 11 just about done when my house started on fire. So I had to redo all of them. I figured they don’t need them until they go off to school,” Bieber said.

The tragic fire claimed so much more than just the quilts.

Her husband of 49 years, Dennis Bieber, lost his life in the May 11, 2018, house fire.

“I just feel like God must’ve said it was time. Because there was really no reason why he didn’t walk out. That’s the only way I can feel. You know? Because if you don’t — you know?” Bieber said.

Bieber lost most of her belongings in the fire as well, but was able to save a handmade cedar chest that sports a drawing of her homestead and picture of her and her husband on their wedding day.

“It’s amazing how that ugly smoke got into everything. The upstairs in the back closet, the last box was full of smoke. It wasn’t just a few boxes in there. It was piled to the ceiling.”

“I think some of my kids probably thought, ‘Why did you let him go down there? Why did you do that?’ Well, if they would’ve lived with him, they would’ve known he was not known to be stopped,” Bieber explained of her husband’s death. “He was a 75-year-old German — he did what he wanted to do. I’m still grieving. I look out the window and I see where my house was. People always say ‘I know how you feel, things will get better,’ and I hope it will. But I put up a good front.”

Her trailer home sits right next to the site of the fire. In the middle of the upturned dirt sits a white cross.

But the loss hasn’t stopped Bieber from continuing to do what she loves to do and is a testament to her dedication to still enjoy life.

“My house burned down a year ago, and I lost my husband in the fire, so last year I didn’t put in a garden and stuff because I was at my daughter’s house,” Bieber explained. “So I didn’t put in a garden last year. But I intend to put one in this year. Putting a garden in is my stress reliever. I like to work out in my garden. I also like to be able to go out in the garden and pick my stuff. If I need an onion, I can go out and get it.”

Bieber also was bound and determined to get back on the farm after the fire.

“I’ve been raised on a farm all my life, and I like my privacy. I spent until October in town living with my daughter for most of the time not knowing when I was finally going to get this trailer house out here,” she said.

“It just wasn’t me. This is where I want to be.”

Bieber said she also makes lap quilts for folks who are retiring or celebrating an anniversary.

“The people like them, and it’s something that they can use,” Bieber said of the lap quilts. “I just gave one to my neighbor lady for her 85th birthday. She tells me, ‘Oh, this is going on my bed.’ I just keep going. I don’t mind doing it. People can use them and they enjoy them.”

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Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com

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