STURGIS, SD – The Sturgis Vets Club hosted a ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 9 that honored four military veterans for their service to our great Nation. “Quilts of Valor” is a national foundation that awards handmade quilts to deserving veterans and one of their local groups, “Heartfelt Quilts of Valor” out of Spearfish, awarded quilts to four veterans in front of a crowd of family and friends.
The group honored Chief Warrant Officer Four Kaylan Harrington of Sturgis, Technical Sergeant Zachary Helms of Ellsworth AFB, Master Sergeant William Cadwalder of Belle Fourche and Captain Kelli Ewert of Spearfish, who served as an Army nurse and is veteran of the conflict in Bosnia.
“I was very honored, I was actually very surprised,” said Ewert. “I own a business and one of my employees, unbeknownst to me, nominated me so I really had no idea.”
Ewert owns Tropical Smoothie Café in Spearfish and works part-time as a Nurse to keep her licensure active. She worked at the Fort Meade Veterans Affairs hospital until last year and still works as a substitute school nurse and for the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, in addition to being a business owner. Ewert says she is proud of her service but likes to deflect praise to others.
“This is a super big honor,” she said. “I can’t even put it into words. I am more humble and like to give the kudos to other people and not myself.”
The “Quilts of Valor” foundation began in 2003 by Catherine Roberts, whose son was deployed to Iraq. Roberts had a dream of a young man, sitting on his bed, hunched over, surrounded by his war demons. Then, like in a movie, she saw him in the next scene, wrapped in a quilt. The young man’s demeanor changed from despair to hope and well-being because of the quilt. This dream spurred Roberts to start “Quilts of Valor” and the foundation awarded their first quilt at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in November of 2003 to a young Soldier who lost his leg in combat in Iraq. Since then, more than 600 “Quilts of Valor” groups in all 50 states have awarded close to 370,000 quilts to deserving Veterans.
The local group was started in Spearfish by Terri Firth and Barb Brady back in 2023 because they saw a need and have since awarded 43 quilts to local veterans. Each quilt is handmade by local volunteers and is awarded to a service member that is nominated by a friend or a loved one. Firth has heartfelt conversations with the Veterans who are nominated for a quilt.
“I interview the veterans,” Firth said. “With some we laugh, with some we cry and it’s been eye opening for me. I’m glad we can support our local Veterans somehow, these guys that have felt left alone.”
Firth and Brady both have family members who have served our Nation and Brady says all the volunteer hours are a labor of love.
“I’ve done a lot of volunteer things in my life,” Brady said. “Parent Teachers Association, volunteering for kids, but by far, (Quilts of Valor) is my favorite, most heartwarming thing. I love the Veteran’s expressions when they get (the quilts).”
Kelli Ewert said that western South Dakota is a patriotic place to live and everyone can do their part for our local Veterans.
“You don’t have to be veteran or in the military to be patriotic, there are so many things you can do in the community,” she said. “Just get out and give some time, that is as patriotic and it serves our community.”
If you’re interested in volunteering for “Quilts of Valor” or nominating a veteran for a quilt presentation, go to their website – www.qovf.org, or call Terri Firth at 830-643-4966 or Barb Brady at 402-681-7880. “Heartfelt Quilts of Valor” meets the second Friday of every month at 1pm at Heartfelt Quilts, 640 Heritage Drive in Spearfish. Everyone is welcome to attend.