Rockford woman a repeat offender in random acts of kindness

by BETH ALTENA

At age 64, Vern Criner is “the baby here” at Richter Place Apartments, a fair housing complex for residents age 62 and older.

Julie Carr, 74, is his senior by 10 years. When she heard that the relative newcomer to the complex wished he had a bedspread, she sprang into action. With arthritis gloves to keep her hands warm and ward off cramping, Carr spent two months and used 22 skeins of yarn to create a bedcover fit for royalty. In the effort she spent in making and giving this huge cover—it measures nine feet two inches by six feet ten inches—Carr didn’t do anything she hasn’t done a thousand times before.

Carr began crocheting about 47 years ago when she picked up a pin lace project of her sister, Mary. Carr was intrigued by the piece and tried her hand at it, lacing a row or two.

“When I heard my sister coming I put it right down,” Carr described. She said her sister looked at her work and asked her what she thought she had been doing.

“I said, ‘Nothing, I didn’t touch it,’ but she knew and pulled all my work out,” Carr said.

Now her sister has since passed away, but after that introduction Carr took up the hobby herself and has been crocheting nearly five decades.

“She gives to everyone,” said Carr’s best friend, referring not just to crocheted works but also of friendship and time.

Seventy-six-year-old Shirley Heiman has been at Richter Place going on seven years. She said many of the residents at Richter Place have mementos of Carr’s generosity—towels, blankets, afghans, sweaters, pot holders, bottle holders, throws and covers. Residents give her the yarn or she buys her own.

Heiman and Carr both say they enjoy their new friendship with Criner. Like other residents at the facility, he brings a surprising mix of talents. Criner’s floral designs grace the dining area at Richter Place. Some of his paintings have been purchased by a local hospital which displays them in reception areas.

“He is just the sweetest man and we enjoy his company,” Heiman said.

It isn’t only to people she knows that Carr extends her gifts of crochet. Carr heard from her church, Lake Bella Vista Church, that the Pregnancy Resource Center and area hospitals need blankets and hats for premature babies. She has been crocheting both items for a while now.

“They said they need the blankets for babies, so I just make them smaller,” Carr described.

The active sectagenarian keeps her hands mobile despite her arthritis and also bowls twice a week in addition to other trips around the Rockford area.

“She’s a gadabout,” Heiman said of her friend.

Carr was just back from Rockford Bowling Lanes the afternoon she spoke with the Squire, and that day she bowled three games with the scores of 108, 116 and 145.

Carr and Heiman also keep active driving around garage saling, going to dollar stores, Goodwill stores, Salvation Army stores, Mel Trotter and other thrift stores looking for treasures. Carr noted she would like to be out driving around even more, but is a little deterred by the cost of gas at $4.10 a gallon.

“I remember filling the tank of my ’48 Chevy for twenty-five cents a gallon,” she said.

Granted, that was a while ago, about the time she and her husband bought their Grand River front home on Abrigador Trail for about $5,000.

The previous evening Carr and Heiman had a good time at a church festival, when Carr won the cake walk twice and bought her pal a snow cone.

“It was my first snow cone,” said Heiman. “It was blueberry and I had blue all over my mouth.”

Heiman said she thought the kindness in Carr’s two-month effort to crochet a gift for their new friend would make a good story.

“It’s a person going out of their way for another person,” she said. “That is the way she always is.”

Carr was modest about the effort it took her to create the giant bed cover, but Heiman insisted it was no mean feat. “She worked on it day and night. It got so big she couldn’t move it and had to keep it on a cart and work on it from there.”

With numerous Carr-crocheted items in her own apartment, Heiman said the gifts to other residents, friends and family members are always appreciated. “When the wind comes up, even with the heat on, you like to cover up,” she said.

Heiman also points out that of all the hundreds of creations Carr has crocheted over the years, only one—a “Polish sweater”—was made from a pattern.

Carr said she just seems to know  how to design what she has in mind so doesn’t need any patterns. “I just do it to be doing it,” she explained.

Clearly Heiman—and doubtless hundreds of others—benefit in comfort and goodwill for the work and care that Carr considers a matter of course.

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