SHERIDAN, Wyo. — For the past few years, young patients at the Shriner's Orthopedic Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City have received handmade quilts from Sheridan resident Fronia Roberson. The quilts are transported or mailed to the hospital by local members of the Sheridan Kalif Shrine and are meant to provide some comfort and security to children facing medical procedures or dealing with illness.
"When a kid wraps up in them, it makes them feel like they are important, which they are," Roberson said.
"And when you get a picture of that child wrapped up in the quilt and a big smile on their face, it makes you feel good," she continued.
"I don't know anything about sewing but what she does is amazing," said Rick Badgett, who serves as recorder for the Sheridan Kalif Shriners. "She is gifted.
There is a lot of work and a lot of expense that goes into it and she just does it for the love of the children. And they are so appreciative to have something like that, that is personal to themselves. We just think she is wonderful. And I know the kids do too!"
Roberson, an Oklahoma native, moved to Sheridan three years ago, but has been making quilts for children with medical issues for many years.
Her first quilt went to a boy she saw one day near a school while she was driving to get groceries.
"He had an aide and he was waddling across the street with his walker," Roberson remembered.
"I called (the school) to see who he was and if he was actually going to school. I wrapped his quilt up and put a note on it saying 'don't open until you get home.' I didn't want him to be embarrassed (at school). The note said 'this is a big hug for when you don't feel good.' He took it to school the next day and showed everyone his 'big hug'."
That was in the 1980s, and Roberson has made dozens of quilts since then, though she does not keep count and has no idea how many she has made and distributed over the years.
In addition to providing quilts to the Shriner's Hospital in Salt Lake City, Roberson distributes her quilts to local children when she sees or hears of one with medical issues.
"If I see a kid on TV that has problems, I call the station and get an address and mail them a quilt," she said. "I've even been known to run down a woman in Walmart with a kid who has problems. It could be any kid that has medical problems.
The fire department was here one night and I sent three quilts with them because they deal with kids too."
One local recipient of a quilt is Nathan Weaver. Weaver received his quilt at Christmas in 2011 and has developed a deep attachment to it.
"He lives and breathes that blanket," said Weaver's mother Dawn. "He loves stuff like that. He was very pleased. He just really appreciates it."
Roberson learned to quilt from her mother, who she said always had a quilt in progress when she was growing up.
"It was just something to do when I was a kid," Roberson said. "When you are cooped up in a house, you do a lot of things for entertainment. It is just a good pasttime. When you keep your hands busy, your mind stays busy."
Roberson primarily makes "crazy" quilts with mismatched pieces of T-shirts for the design, creating a kaleidoscope of color.
"The top is old T-shirts that I either get at the thrift store or a garage sale or people give them to me," explained Roberson. "Whatever I am given that can go through the washing machine and is in good condition, I use them. The more color I can get in them, the more the babies like them."
She started making T-shirt quilts in Oklahoma when she answered a newspaper ad from a woman whose son was in the military. He had collected T-shirts from his travels around the world and wanted a quilt made to combine his souvenirs. His mother did not know how to quilt, so she had placed the ad and Roberson made the quilt.
"After that, I just decided the T-shirt material was an inexpensive material," Roberson said. "You can pick up T-shirts at garage sales and thrift stores. There were two thrift stores back home where I lived that I could climb in the hopper and dig out what I wanted and they didn't charge me for them."
"There's people in the building here that donate (quilt material)," she continued. "A lady in the office, she is often bringing me stuff.
If someone brings something in the building to be distributed, she hollers at me first and I go through whatever it is and pick out what I want."
Roberson said she has a lot of accumulated T-shirt material, but purchases batting, thread and the lining material for the quilt, usually flannel for extra warmth and comfort.
She does sometimes get donations from friends or neighbors, or other quilters with leftover material. Anyone wishing to donate batting, thread or flannel fabric for lining Roberson's quilts, can drop off the items at Heritage Towers with Roberson's name on them.
Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press, http://www.thesheridanpress.com/