Sheryl Schenker was a quilter and crafter who made things that brought beauty into the daily lives of those around her. She created colorful gardens to surround the Barnard home she shared with Sepp, her husband of 33 years; stenciled their home’s interior walls; and filled the rooms with homemade quilts and crafts. Over the years she taught family members and friends of all ages how to quilt or to “turn trash to treasures.” The many quilts she made for her family, friends, and for community fundraisers are cherished by all who have received them.
“She was always making things—I think that’s what everyone remembers. After she passed many people sent me stories of coming over to our house to do crafts,” her daugther Jennifer said. “As soon as you became part of the family, or if you came to the house for the holiday, she would make you something. At graduation she made us quilts with pictures of life events—from when we were babies up until graduation.”
Stitching together community life
Sheryl was active at the Barnard elementary school when her daughter Jennifer and son Stefan were young, and was also a Boy and Girl Scout leader during those years. Jennifer and Diane Rainey’s daughter went through school together, and the two mom’s found a shared passion when Sheryl introduced Diane to quilting. Within a few years the two women opened “Garden of Stitches,”; a Bethel store with fabric and quilting supplies that attracted quilters from miles around.
“We didn’t make any money, but we had fun!” Diane said. “It was nice to see quilters as they came into the shop to buy fabric. Often you just knew those who were quilting for a donation—they didn’t want to be recognized, or to be paid. It takes a special person to create these gifts from the heart.”
Connecting patterns of comfort and craft
When Sheryl was diagnosed with cancer and cared for at Gifford, Diane was at her friend’s side. She was with her when Development Director Ashley Lincoln visited to see how Last Mile Ride (LMR) funds might help Sheryl and her family, and when Ashley brought one of the handmade quilts LMR gives to terminally ill patients.
“When they brought the quilt in we both instantly recognized the material in the quilt—it was from our shop!” Diane said. “Sheryl just lit up when she saw that quilt.”
Last Mile Ride funds helped with travel expenses to bring Jennifer and her son Kaden home from Arizona for a visit. The family spent time together in Gifford’s Garden Room suite, a peaceful space overlooking a courtyard garden, before Sheryl chose to return home with hospice care.
“I really appreciated being able to come home, and everyone at Gifford was so helpful. People made sure we had food and that Kaden was comfortable.” Jennifer said. “My mother had gardens at the house and I think that is why she liked that room so much. It was perfect for her.”
The quilt went home with Sheryl, but the spirit of connecting through quilting that she had taught Diane continued in a new way. Diane donated fabric that she and Sheryl had collected after they closed their store to those who create Last Mile Ride quilts for patients.
An annual tradition made special
Another quilt connected with Last Mile Ride is one Gifford’s nursing staff creates to raffle off as part of the fundraising activities. This year three women worked with fabric that had been donated to honor Sheryl Schenker, and each had known her in some special way.
Betsy Hannah has worked at Gifford for 23 years, and on the last five LMR quilts. She frequently visited the Garden of Stitches store, and knew Sheryl as part of the local quilting community. Dawn DeCoff, who has also worked at Gifford for 23 years, was one of the original LMR quilters and has worked on every one of the nine different designs created for the event over the years. She has lived in Barnard since she was 16, and her first job was with Sheryl and Sepp Schenker (when they owned the Barnard Inn).
“Sheryl and Sepp were like my parents, they gave me my start in life!” she said. “I think it was comforting for all of us to think of her as we worked.”
This year Diane Rainey joined the two Gifford quilters. Together they discussed patterns, sorted through material, and contributed fabric of their own. The finished quilt, a colorful labor of love, is a fitting tribute to a woman who used her talents to give so generously to her family and her community
“She was a very gifted quilter and crafter and a close friend,” Diane said. “Helping to make the quilt this year was my way to say thank you to Sheryl.”