Elvera Davis, 87, remembers a time when resources were scarce and times were harder.
She was born on a farm between Scribner and West Point to a family of seven. She remembers walking to school a quarter of a mile each day — much better than some of the other kids in her class, who could walk up to two miles. Her brother only had one pair of pants that he wore all week. Her school had no heating and she was required to wear a skirt with stockings.
“I do wish we had had more money,” she said. “I didn’t get to go to college, because there were seven of us in the family and I didn’t have a chance to do that.”
Years later, Davis would work to give back to those in need. An avid quilter and and active member of Fremont’s Sinai Lutheran Church, Davis spent years sewing quilts for the church to be donated to those in need around the world through the Lutheran World Relief program.
And while she’s pulled back from the quilt-making in recent years, her output at Sinai Lutheran Church is impressive. Alone, Davis made upward of 100 quilts per year — all donated to overseas missions.
“After my husband passed away (in 1994), I had plenty of time on my hands, and I thought I was doing good — I’d cut out blocks for 40 quilts,” she said. “The first year I made about 50. The next year 75. The next year 100. One year I made 200.”
Her quilts would be eight and a half by eight and a half. She and a friend worked on them together for years.
They were displayed on a quilt rack at the church and blessed. Then, through Lutheran World Relief they went all over, wherever there was a need. They’ve been to Thailand, Pakistan, Lebanon, Dubai and more.
“Elvera typically sews two quilts a week; it’s amazing,” said Emily Wageman, parish administrator at Sinai Lutheran. “So we sent last year, probably like 120, and she probably does a good 95 of those. It is very impressive. And she’ll find garage sales and get the fabric, or some people will donate them.”
By comparison, a church group of about eight to 10 members that meets once a month generally finished about two per month, Wageman said.
Davis can recall one woman who visited the church to tell the quilters that she had received a Lutheran World Relief quilt when she was younger just after World War II, long before Davis began quilting. It put the quilting project in perspective, Davis said.
“I imagine that they moved around a lot and they didn’t have anything and anything that they got was welcome,” Davis said.
Davis was no stranger to quilting — on her and husband Lyle’s farm in Herman, where her family lived for 35 years, Davis sewed all the time, creating clothing for her four boys.
Times were often tough there, too. They had about 180 acres of farmland, not as much as others, and the hilly terrain wasn’t suitable for particularly productive yields. Lyle had to find more work in Omaha, and Davis, a one-time rural school teacher, then worked a garden, canning dozens of quarts of apples, pears and more to help bring in some extra revenue. Sewing clothes was both fun for her — and helped her save money.
“(My boys) were all skinny and narrow-shouldered, and the clothes we bought wouldn’t fit them,” she said. “And we didn’t have much money. I would send off to a catalog, and they had a batch of say 20 yards or something, and then I would buy that and whatever I got is what I made their shirts out of.”
Davis’ involvement in quilt-making has waned more recently, especially since her friend who used to help her produce the quilts suffered a stroke. Davis stops by once a week to read to her.
But Davis still helps out where she can, using her Accuquilt machine, which can quickly create quilt blocks that Davis can contribute to the cause.
“I could cut out 10 or 12 blocks at one time,” Davis said, noting that she didn’t have that machine when she first started. “And so I still cut out some blocks and take them to church and some other people sew them together.”
Nowadays, Davis is also an avid member and volunteer at the Friendship Center Senior Center at Fremont’s Christensen Field, where she comes once a week to bowl. She was a regular bowler for many years until she was forced into early retirement for health reasons in 2014. Now she bowls in a virtual bowling alley, playing a bowling video game for the Nintendo Wii video game console, which allows her to swing a handheld remote control as if it were a bowling ball and watch the pins go down on a TV screen.
“I usually do better at it than regular bowling,” Davis said. She used to bowl 130 regularly. Now, on the Wii, she bowls a 160.
That service has been available at the Friendship Center for the past year, says Friendship Center Manager Laurie Harms. And Davis is its most avid user.
“She is faithfully there every Monday when we have it,” she said. “She’s been trying to recruit other seniors … she compares her score week to week.”
But even at the senior center, Davis hasn’t given up her giving attitude. She volunteers regularly, helping to pass out silverware and milk during meal times, and being a friendly face, Harms said.
“She is really good about including brand new people that walk in the door and asking them to play cards or a game,” she said. “You know, the milk and silverware sound like such a simple thing, but she knows what kind of milk they drink — if they take 1 percent or skim — she knows where they normally sit … she knows who will come in late.”
“She’s just got a very giving heart,” Harms added.
For Davis, giving back serves a dual purpose.
“It helps other people, but it also keeps me busy,” she said.