By Princess Safiya Byers Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published May 04, 2024 at 12:01 PM

From master quilters to enthusiastic beginners, a vibrant community of seniors gathers weekly to share stories, wisdom and laughter as they work on their quilt pieces at the McGovern Park Senior Center.

McGovern Park Senior Center, 4500 W. Custer Ave., is one of five Serving Older Adults, or SOA, senior centers in Milwaukee County that offers a variety of programming for residents over 50. 

But on Wednesdays, a large room at McGovern is reserved for quilters. 

Since the early 2000s, the group of 10 to 20 seniors has gathered at the Senior Center each week to learn from one another and make art together.

After a career as a seamstress, Ethel White started quilting in 2003 after her husband took her to an exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive. She was so impressed that she taught herself to quilt.

“I initially couldn’t see the art in quilting,” White said. “But the exhibit we’d seen had these specific quilts and I couldn’t believe how similar they were to the quilts my mother and grandmother would make.”

White has since had her quilts exhibited locally and nationally and has won awards for her work. But despite being a master quilter, White still spends her Wednesdays at the McGovern Park Senior Center. 

“I started at the Center Street Library and started coming here in ‘05, ‘06,” she said. 

Following family tradition

Group members say quilting is a fun and relaxing way to stay busy after retirement. And it teaches patience and problem-solving, they said.  

Many of the quilters share the common interest of quilting for their families. They also say they quilt to feel closer to their ancestors, including mothers, grandmothers and aunts who quilted as children.  

Juanita Wade, 92, has been sewing since she was about 9 years old. Being one of 15 children, she said her family had to make due by creating their clothing.

She got into quilting around 2004. Now, she and her family make and donate about 600 small quilts to Froedtert Hospital & Medical College of Wisconsin Palliative Care Program annually. 

“We have a variety of incredible quilters groups that donate beautiful quilts coordinated by our Volunteer Services Department to our palliative/hospice patients throughout the hospital,” said Stacy Waxara, nurse manager for the Palliative Care Program. “They provide the most beautiful gifts to patients and families, all out of love.”

Others have been quilting for less time and say participating in the group offers them a trusted community and the opportunity to learn and grow from others. 

"A good place to be"

Cynthia Coleman works with different art forms but started quilting in 2019. She said she learns from other members of the group. 

“Coming every week helps you be motivated and keeps you accountable because people are looking for your finished product,” she said. “And it’s nice to get opinions from people you know and are comfortable with.”

Earlene Rosboro-Butler teaches a class for quilters at other centers but attends McGovern’s quilting group because it’s filled with “kindred spirits.”

Regardless of their reason for attending, when the group gathers at the McGovern Park Senior Center, colorful fabric fills tables and a symphony of gentle rustles, rhythmic clicks and soft murmurs fills the room.

“We come and make friends and miss each other when we aren’t here,” said Coleman. “This is a good place to be.” 

Want to learn more?

For more information on Serving Older Adults and its programs or how to help, click here.