By Carla Stewart
The boys and girls at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch northwest of Amarillo, Texas are always anxious for the yearly visit from Mrs. Cowan – Elsie to her friends and family. That’s when she delivers the quilts she has made the previous year—sometimes as many as one hundred quilts! It’s a tradition that has spanned six decades. The ministry began with a group of ladies from the Range country church in the Oklahoma Panhandle community of Hardesty. Elsie and the members of her county extension group joined the effort ten years ago and have been quilting up a storm ever since.
“I love to make quilts,” she explained. “To me, it’s not work; it’s enjoyment. Some of the boys and girls have never had a blanket all their own. It’s something you can do for others, and that’s why I love doing it.”
A Quilt for Every Boy and Girl
As the mother of ten children, Elsie knows the importance of each child having his own warm blanket, and one quilted with love is even more special. The yearly delivery is a highlight for Elsie as well as she is welcomed by smiles, treated to lunch in the Boys Ranch cafeteria, and sometimes tours the facility or visits one of the group homes to see the students’ rooms. She gets a thrill from seeing how the boys and girls have decorated their rooms to their own liking whether the theme be sports, cowboys or another interest they might have. And in every room, there’s a quilt. Sometimes covering the bed. Sometimes folded neatly at the foot. Seeing her work and that of the other special ladies involved in the project is gratification enough. Even so, Elsie often receives handmade thank-you cards from the recipients of the quilts.
A Place to Call Home
Cal Farley Boys Ranch is one of America’s largest privately-funded child and family service providers of both residential and community-based services at no cost to the families of children in their care. Their mission is to provide a Christ-centered atmosphere to strengthen families and support the overall development of children. Over 9,000 youth have been served since 1939 when the ranch was started to give troubled boys a second chance. You can read a more complete history of Boys Ranch here.
Several years ago, Bruce, one of Elsie’s sons, traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico. A young man staying at the same motel noticed a Perryton Ranger sticker on Bruce’s vehicle and commented that he knew where that was. Bruce inquired as to why he was familiar with the location since it’s a fairly small town in the Texas Panhandle. Come to find out, the young man had graduated from Boys Ranch and played high school sports against Perryton.
Bruce said, “Let me ask you something – did you receive a quilt while you were living at Boys Ranch?”
“Sure did. How did you know?”
“My mom probably had something to do with that quilt.”
The young man smiled. “I still have it.”
Today many of the ladies who have helped through the years have passed on or are in their 80’s or 90’s dwindling the number of ladies on Elsie’s team. Additionally in 2010, illness slowed Elsie down, and her delivery was just 57 quilts, quite a bit lower than in previous years. Her supply of double knit fabric used for the quilt tops had dwindled as well, but knowing how much the quilt ministry meant to Elsie, several members of her immediate and extended family joined the effort. Two of those new to the project sent out e-mails to see if they could gather more material. The response was overwhelming with fabric and thread flowing in from local people as well as from those many miles away. This past summer, family and friends gathered on special workdays to cut squares, sew quilt tops, or tie quilts. There was plenty of work and laughter to go around.
Each colorful quilt is made of 6-inch squares and is 60×90 inches in size. New cotton fabric is purchased for the backing and bed sheets are sewn in the middle instead of batting. When all the layers are assembled, each quilt is hand-tied.
This year, with the help of family and friends, Elsie is enjoying good health again and anticipates having at least a hundred quilts ready to deliver to Boys Ranch in November.
“I love going and meeting the kids and seeing them handle the quilts. Anyone who could see these kids would do nothing less,” Elsie says.
Her granddaughter, Marsha Cowan, who has helped on occasion, had this to say. “Grandma’s talent and passion for quilting is one way she extends giving beyond her family; she will always be remembered by all the lives she has touched through her quilting ministry!”
Elsie Cowan will celebrate her 82nd birthday this fall. Widowed for eleven years, she still enjoys gardening and is active in her church. In addition to being the mother of ten, Elsie has 21 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren, and a host of friends. Most have received one of Elsie’s quilts over the years. And Elsie would be the first to tell you that a quilt is made to be used, not kept in a cedar chest or stored away. Just as the kids at Boys Ranch have learned, anyone who receives a quilt from Elsie knows they’ve received a treasure because it’s quilted with love.