Dianne Cook is an artist with a sewing machine.
And from Nebraska rancher and county clerk to a nanny in Hawaii, the Fremont woman has found quilting and making church banners to be a common thread in her life’s endeavors.
One recent morning, Cook draped a few of the colorful quilts she’s made over pews at St. Timothy Lutheran Church where she is a secretary.
Bright pink, blue and yellow pieces of fabric formed star patterns on one quilt. Musical notes swirled above a keyboard on another, while pastel-colored bubbles floated effortlessly across a third.
The Fremont woman has made more than 100 quilts — ranging in size from 1-foot square to king size.
She’s made more than 80 banners for four different churches and statewide women’s meetings.
Born in Fremont and raised on a farm north of Arlington, Cook attended business school at Lincoln School of Commerce.
She married in 1963 and the next year she and her spouse moved to Ames, Iowa. Cook put her husband through five years of veterinary college while she worked as secretary.
After he graduated, they moved back to Nebraska and settled in Sidney.
Cook sewed for her husband and three children — Lisa, Brian and Amy. She made coats, prom dresses, jeans, shirts and pajamas.
“I kept the scraps with the intention of piecing quilts someday,” she said.
One day, she set out to work with the fabric, but it was a cotton-polyester blend—not as friendly of material to work with as 100 percent cotton. She made one quilt with that fabric, but gave most of the rest of it away.
She started buying cotton fabric and piecing quilts. She has quilting magazines to get ideas, but never uses a pattern as it’s printed.
“I either make the quilt smaller or larger or I change the block, but I don’t use it exactly as it is,” she said.
She’s donated quilts to Camp Fontanelle, Camp Carol Joy Holling, church fundraisers, The Bridge and friends.
Her work with banners began when she still lived in Sidney.
It started when the pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church asked if she could make a special banner for confirmation.
“I thought it would be a one-time thing,” she said.
But then he mentioned that the Easter banner was in bad shape.
Would she make an Easter banner?
He only asked her the Sunday before Easter.
But she made the banner.
Cook started taking a pencil and tablet along when she went on walks, because she’d get visions of other banners to make.
“I know God just put this in my head,” she said. “My daughter used to say I was ‘bannerizing,’ because I’d see a menu at a restaurant and it would remind me of a banner I could make.
Her “bannerizing” continued.
“I made probably 60 banners for Holy Trinity Church,” she said. “They had to make up a new place to store them, because what they had wasn’t big enough. Every Sunday, I would look at the Gospel (reading) for the day and select a banner that would be appropriate to hang in the church.”
While in Sidney, she co-owned a small ranch with 70 cows. She helped birth calves and sold bulls to other ranchers. She stacked hay bales and did other ranch chores.
Cook’s children would follow her tradition of being a 4-H member.
“I was a 10-year 4-H member and each of my children were 10-year members,” she said. “I was a leader for 16 years.”
At one time, she had as many as 33 kids in a club she led.
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After her divorce, Cook was elected to be the county clerk, election commissioner and registrar of deeds in Cheyenne County. During the next election, Cook said neither she nor other incumbents were re-elected.
She moved back to Fremont and got a job at what’s now called Midland University.
Then she learned about a job opening at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
She worked there for about seven years and made about a dozen banners for that church, where she worked as a secretary. Next, she’d work as a secretary for Thrivent Financial.
Then her youngest daughter, Amy, and son-in-law, Thomas, invited her to Hawaii to become a nanny for their son set to be born that July. Three years later, they had another son.
They invited Cook’s mom, Meta, to come with them with as well.
“So I was caring for a baby and a 3-year-old and a 90-year-old,” Cook said.
Cook lived in Kailua, Hawaii, for 10 years.
But then her mom began having mini strokes and needed more care. So her mother moved back to Fremont and she followed. Her mom lives at Nye Pointe and will celebrate her 100th birthday on June 30.
Years ago, Cook planned to make a quilt for each of her children.
But somehow, she couldn’t develop a plan for a quilt for her oldest daughter, Lisa.
So Cook made quilts for Brian and Amy.
Then Lisa was killed in a car accident two days in Illinois — two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in September 2001. She was 34 years old.
Lisa had been head of the state 4-H program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Cook made a quilt, which she sold. She had the money from the sale of the quilt go into a memorial for Lisa for the 4-H scholars program in Illinois.
In 2014, Cook became secretary at St. Timothy Lutheran Church.
She smiles when asked if every day is a banner day at St. Timothy.
Actually, she’s probably made about a dozen banners for St. Timothy, along with one for St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Arlington.
Now, after five years, her time at St. Timothy is drawing to a close.
“I had a mild heart attack Easter Sunday of this year that resulted in a triple bypass the following Thursday,” she said. “Three arteries were 90 to 99 percent blocked.”
Surgery went well, but she had complications — A-fib, depression and fluid on her lungs — all things treated with time and medication. Told she needed to make changes in diet and exercise, she’s made a few alterations.
Before surgery, her doctor said it would be Thanksgiving or Christmas before she would be back to normal. She looks to the future.
She’ll turn 77 on Jan. 7 and plans to retire from St. Timothy on Jan. 10.
“I love the work,” she said. “I love the people. I will miss it.”
She’s recently become enthused about quilting again.
“I love the process,” she said. “From finding a pattern or seeing something that reminds me of a quilt design and then selecting the fabric—and then the finished product.”
In the times ahead, she plans to do more sewing and traveling. She’s gone to the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico and to Christmas shows in Branson, Missouri.
She’s in a weekly card club. She eats out with friends.
When it comes to life and hobbies, things just piece together for Cook.
“I have the biggest social life of my life,” she said. “I won’t have a problem occupying my time.”