Last month, St. Catherine Hospital celebrated volunteers who dedicated their time and talent to comforting local families, naming Marie Millershaski the 2017 Volunteer of the Year and giving Brian Schultz, who also works at the hospital, special recognition.

Millershaski reached out to the hospital in June 2012, after her sister said a volunteer who used to sew baby blankets for newborns had moved away.

Millershaski was at the tail end of a rocky decade. Her husband had passed away, she had recovered from cancer and had recently lost her job after breaking her foot. It was a transitional period for her and she was slowly moving back into the world. And she had sewn her first blanket, a doll’s blanket, when she was 10.

So when volunteer coordinator Shari Brandenburg told her to bring in a sample blanket, Millershaski brought in a dozen.

In the years since, Millershaski has made more than 600 blankets for babies born at the hospital. The blankets don’t go to every child, Brandenburg said, but those that need them most.

At the rate of roughly four hours a blanket, she washes, cuts, edges, stitches and washes again before packing them in a bundle to bring to the hospital. Millershaski makes the blankets with her own materials, time and money, Brandenburg said. Once, when visiting family in Colorado Springs, she brought home 12 bolts of flannel from the local Joann Fabric and Crafts Store. They were having a sale.

Millershaski said she had not met the families who receive her blankets. Brandenburg said even she often misses Millershaski when she drops off her most recent contributions. She said she’s come back to her office many times to see a huge bag of blankets in her chair.

“(Naming Millershaski Volunteer of the Year) had been in the works because she does so much and gives so much. It’s a little tiny bit of appreciation for the mountain of things that she does for us,” Brandenburg said.

Millershaski is involved in other organizations, such as her church and the food bank in Gray County. But she said the six years of blanket sewing had brought to her life a welcome consistency.

“I have other things going on, but I don’t have a husband that I have to look after. I do have grandkids in school, but they’ve now all grown up where they don’t see me as much. It’s just something to get rid of my stress or frustration. That’s why some of the blankets aren’t quite exactly straight,” she said jokingly.

Schultz, a jack-of-all-trades facilities worker at St. Catherine, also has used his spare time and personal skills to help families at the hospital. For the last two years, Schultz has used his home wood shop to make chests in which to bury children lost to miscarriage.

Like Millershaski, Schultz took over the job from a past volunteer. His instructions were simple, but he put thought and care into the assignment. He’s matter-of-fact about the work. It’s another job to him. And to Schultz, “you do your job how you would have done it for yourself.”

The task is thankfully a rare one, but Brandenburg said she is grateful for Schultz’s attention to detail. The chests are shiny white, all the way down to the pegs. She said they’re beautiful.

Schultz said he had met a woman who lost a child and was given a chest. The emotion and gratitude that came with the experience made him uncomfortable. It was unlike anything he had faced before.

“This is completely different … I worked in a factory for 20 years. I was head of utility for all three plants. And you were just like a number, honestly. You did your job, and the only time somebody really talked to you is when something got screwed up … But here, it was uncomfortable because I’m not used to it,” he said.

Brandenburg said she wanted to recognize Schultz to thank him and show him the value of his work. When she and her colleagues saw the first box, they were blown away.

“He just went beyond. And the care and the quality and the craftsmanship of this chest is just gorgeous. And we were just in awe. And, you know, I said thank you, and he said thank you. But thank you is sometimes, would be enough for Brian probably, but not enough for what we felt. And we really wanted to do something special for him,” Brandenburg said.

Schultz is more modest.

“I could have done better,” he said.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.