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At 83, she's a quilting machine for family friends and veterans hospitals

LARGO — A few times a year, one of Pat Held's daughters will call with a familiar request.

"Mom, I need another baby quilt. Pink this time."

Held puts her needle-calloused, 83-year-old fingers to work. In just a day, she'll have a new quilt ready to mail off.

And thus her two daughters, who live out of state, always have the most original gifts when they go to friends' baby showers.

Gifts for family friends are just the start of this one-woman cottage industry. Even among her quilting-adroit peers with Largo's Cracker Quilters, Held has proven extraordinary in her speed and dedication, said Gerald Walters, a fellow quilter.

Each year for the past four, Held has sewn about 100 quilts for the group's primary beneficiary — state veterans' hospitals.

She has made more than 400 for Bay Pines VA Medical Center, which has received so many, it sends others to hospitals across the state. She holds the record among the group members for quilts produced for the hospital.

For Held, quilting is an altruistic pastime that she says is merely paying it forward.

"I spend about as much money at Jo-Ann Fabrics with 50 percent off coupons as I do at Publix," Held said. "What goes around, comes around."

Before she became a prodigious quilter — two rooms of her house are stacked with stuffing and spare fabric bolts — Held received degrees in history and home economics from Ohio Wesleyan University. After college, in 1949, she was employed as the host of a weekly television segment for a Philadelphia CBS affiliate.

Her husband, Fred Held, a sales executive, got a new post in Florida and the family moved to Largo in 1971.

She was asked by a friend to take a teaching job.

"But I never taught before," Held remembers replying.

She took it anyway, at Seminole Elementary.

Later she worked for Sun Oil Co., testing waxes used in weatherproofing equipment that was utilized for research in Antarctica. She left after the company began downsizing, giving up her position to preserve the job of a single mother.

"You have a husband with a good-paying job," she remembers a colleague telling her.

But that was fine. Held had quilting as a hobby.

"My husband used to say it kept me out of the bars and off the golf courses," Held said.

Some of Held's work is done on Friday afternoons with about a dozen fellow Cracker Quilters in the 143-year-old Daniel McMullen House at Heritage Village in Largo. She puts her history degree to work giving tours to guests who visit the bit of restored living history.

Though she is humble about her quilting skill, those who receive her colorful designs — some red, white and blue on one side, plaid on the other — say the work Held and her fellow Cracker Quilters do makes a difference.

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 580-2951.

At 83, she's a quilting machine for family friends and veterans hospitals 02/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 1:43pm]
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