Former teacher and student reunite for GoldPine quilting project
GoldPine Home resident Dorothy Smith and her nurse Julie Miller still maintain their teacher-student relationship.
BEMIDJI -- Decades after walking the halls of Laporte School, GoldPine Home resident Dorothy Smith and her nurse Julie Miller still maintain their teacher-student relationship.
Miller was part of Smith’s fourth-grade class in the 1970s, and the pair recently reconnected after Miller started working at GoldPine in November 2020 with Smith moving in July 2021.
As it turns out, the meeting was completely by happenstance.
“One day, I happened to be working (on the second floor) shortly after Dorothy moved in and we got to visiting,” Miller said. “She was telling me about her time in Laporte and I was like of course it’s Mrs. Smith!”
Having been a few decades since they last saw each other, the two hit it off immediately after recognizing their connection.
Reflecting on their school days, Smith admitted that Miller was one of her favorite students.
“Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but it's hard not to when you have someone who’s laughing and smiling and doing everything they’re supposed to like a good girl,” Smith said before Miller added with a laugh, “for the most part.”
Being in the same space again allowed both women to discuss how they could collaborate to positively impact everybody around them.
Following Smith’s move-in, Nursing Director Clarissa Dowhower handed her some fabric wanting to see what she could do with it.
Smith’s mother taught her to sew when she was 10 years old and being able to sew about two pieces a day -- and still have time for a nap -- she created two quilts with the material she was given in no time.
When Miller caught sight of Smith’s work, she proposed an idea that would soon become a GoldPine-wide project for a good cause.
“Dorothy and I had been looking for ways to give. So I said 'I could I buy some fabric to help make some more quilts,’” Miller said. “I bought the fabric and some thread and figured if Dorothy wanted to sew them, we’d get that done for the (PinePals) daycare next door. And so we did.”
Smith received many fabric donations from families of other GoldPine residents before too long due in part to Activities Manager Sarah Sundeen.
“When (Sundeen) realized what was going on, messages were sent out to those who had relatives in the building and asked them if they could donate fabric,” Smith said. “Generous people brought in big bunches of fabric, or little tiny pieces or whatever they had. It was amazing how many donated.”
Smith began her quest to sew 75 children’s quilts for the PinePals child care center and preschool right next door. Being coined “Quilts for Kids,” it was made into an afternoon activity for the GoldPine residents who could make ribbons, tie the quilts and attach cards.
All of the quilts were gifted right before Christmas with the children being able to choose their own.
“(Smith) had a goal of making one for each of the children for Christmas and that she did,” Sundeen said. “We had a few children at a time come over to GoldPine. This was our first actual in-person activity with the children since the dream and construction of the west wing.”
Smith spoke highly about this GoldPine-PinePals interaction, something that was made considerably harder by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I can stand on a soapbox about having a daycare here. The initial plan was that there’d be interaction between the adults and the kids. Well, Mr. COVID came along,” Smith said. “We’ve been separated, but our hearts are still over there with the little ones.”
Having completed one ambitious project, Smith saw no reason to pack away her sewing machine and has since made quilts for almost every GoldPine resident.
She has quilted for 20 residents in the downstairs west wing and for 30 in the south wing. She is currently preparing 20 more for the north wing.
“My sewing machine is my friend,” Smith said with a smile. If she didn’t continue sewing, she mentioned that “all there is left is television and sleep, and I don’t want to do that.”
Smith has previously made pillowcases for local hospitals and homeless shelters, and her church group also sent quilts to Africa on behalf of Days for Girls , a group that aims to advance menstrual equity.
Regarding future projects, Smith is in talks about sewing pillowcases for GoldPine. For any other projects that come up, she is sure that Miller will be helping her every step of the way.
“I’ve done other stuff, Julie has done other stuff,” Smith said. “It just so happened we hit a spot where we could work together. It also keeps me busy and out of mischief.”
Reflecting on the past six months, Smith credited Miller for playing an essential role as part of their joint effort, both for the mass quilting operation and picking up where they left off since Miller departed her fourth-grade classroom.
“I couldn’t have done anything without Julie,” Smith added.
Miller left off as tears welled up in her eyes, “It’s so neat. We feel very blessed to have entered each other’s lives again.”