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Layton man finds healing while finishing late wife's last quilt

Monday , May 14, 2018 - 5:00 AM

LAYTON — After 61 years of marriage, there wasn’t much Gerald “Jarry” Lautenschlager wouldn’t do for his late wife, Wanetta Lautenschlager.

That’s why after 80-year-old Wanetta died of congestive heart failure Feb. 7 and a grief group leader challenged him to honor her, the 81-year-old took up her unfinished sewing project.

A quilted bedspread now stands in tribute to not only the memory of Wanetta Lautenschlager, but also the years she and her husband spent together, their children and grandchildren.

The bedspread, which took Jarry Lautenschlager 72 hours to complete, features embroidery with Wanetta and Jarry Lautenschlager’s names, the names of all the couple’s posterity and the date they were wed, Aug. 4, 1956.

Women who witnessed his effort said they were in awe of the love he showed through the project.

“Jarry is a plane flyer, retired Air Force. He’s kind of a man’s man,” said Layton resident Marsha Crowder. “This is so out of character for him, which makes it even more special.”

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Crowder has attended church at the Christian Life Center with the Lautenschlagers for 32 years. She said if someone had told her a year ago that Jarry  Lautenschlager was going to sew a quilt, she wouldn’t have believed them.

“I would have said Jarry doesn’t have a clue how to make a quilt,” Crowder said.

That’s why the gesture touched her, she said.

“The fact that he changed who he really is to do something so loving and compassionate was inspiring,” Crowder said. “He was determined to do the work. He wasn’t willing to let someone take it and do it for him.”

A woman who works at Wimmer’s Sewing and Vacuum, one of two sewing stores where Jarry Lautenschlager went for sewing advice, said it is rare but not unheard of for men to take up sewing.

There are a few men in sewing classes there, she said.

What was moving, the woman said, was that a man who had not tried sewing before was willing to try it to honor his wife.

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“What an amazing customer and such a sweet way to honor his wife and her love of sewing!” said a post on the Wimmer’s Sewing and Vacuum Facebook page.

Ruth Huggins, a clerk at Sew-N-Save in Clearfield, also helped him with the project.

“I thought it was so sweet,” Huggins said. “We told him to use what he had and how to go about it simply.”

He would have completed more of the quilt every time he dropped by the store, she said. 

Huggins referred Jarry Lautenschlager to a woman who could embroider the quilt, she said, the only part of the project he didn’t do himself.

After he sewed scraps together to make a binding and sewed it to the quilt, Huggins said he allowed her to trim the binding for him. Then, she showed him how to hand stitch the binding with blind stitching.

In all, Jarry Lautenschlager estimates he sewed 1,300 blind stitches, all the way around the quilt.

Huggins remembers asking Jarry Lautenschlager what he did while working on the quilt for two hours a night. She recalls him saying he didn’t watch television or listen to the radio.

“I just have conversations with my sweet wife,” Huggins remembered him saying. “He said ‘This has helped me so much.’”

Jarry Lautenschlager said he got more out of the project than a tribute to his wife. He also found a chance to grieve her loss as he sewed each night to tackle the project, he said.

While he has noticed many widows and widowers who are not ever the same after losing their spouse, Jarry Lautenschlager said he felt healed as he sewed.

“It was a good grieving time for me,” he said. “I had some real tender moments.”

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or on Facebook at Facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis. 

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