As soon as Amy Sue Leasure, a 911 dispatcher in Prescott, Arizona, saw the horrific news broadcasts on Sept. 11, 2001, she called her mother, Cecelia Caston.
"We’ve got to do something," said Leasure, an avid seamstress.
"Amy mentioned making memorial quilts," her mother said. But Caston remembers telling her daughter, "No, honey, you can’t, there are too many victims."
But within a few days, Leasure had created and launched a website and mapped out an intricate quilt project to memorialize the 7,500 victims and the emergency workers who responded to the trio of terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Leasure, a third-shift worker and mother of a toddler, put out a plea for 121/2-inch red, white and blue quilt squares in a star pattern. Within days, she needed a pickup truck to collect her daily mail. The website had so many hits, it crashed and had to be relaunched.
Within a few weeks, she had received 20,000 quilt squares from 30 countries and throughout the U.S.
After selecting the 25 squares needed for each quilt, Leasure would add the backing and binding material, thread and batting – donated by fabric companies – and ship it off to be pieced together and quilted by volunteers across the U.S.
The thousands of donated quilt squares that were not used in the project continue to be made into quilts for charitable groups or causes.
Tragically, Leasure was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2002. She was 32.
But the result of her compassion and vision lives on and can be viewed in Fort Wayne on the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
The 9/11 WTC Quilt Project collection of 300 full-size quilts with the victims’ names and 15 quilted banners honoring the rescue workers – and canines – will be on exhibition at IPFW this weekend.
After Leasure’s death, a family friend hosted the first exhibition of the project in Seattle in 2004. The project was then put into storage where it remained for over a decade.
Quilter Beverly Kuemin of Niles, Michigan, made and donated a block for the quilt and attended the Seattle showing. After inquiring and finding out that the project had stalled, she volunteered to become the "Keeper of the Quilts," as she calls herself.
The 21 large, covered bins where the quilts are stored are stacked on pallets and shelves in Kuemin’s garage.
"I had no idea what I had gotten myself into," Kuemin said, during an interview at her home.
Kuemin arranged the second exhibit last year in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Victims’ names and quilt blocks can be located through a project directory organized and cataloged by Leasure. Purple ribbons – Leasure’s favorite color – are attached to the quilts as a tribute to her vision.
Kuemin relies on volunteers to help transport the quilts, set up, tear down and staff the event. One of those volunteers is Sherry Barnes of Mishawaka who quilted one of the blocks that appears on the honor banner for the Pentagon.
Between advertising, transportation, space rental fees and renting quilt racks, each exhibit costs the not-for-profit group about $4,000, Kuemin said. Donations help offset those costs.
Kuemin hopes to schedule two showings in each state and then find a permanent home for the project in New York City.
"That was Amy’s wish, and I want to help make that happen," Kuemin said.