This story was originally published in 2006 in A Common Place magazine. We at MCC thank Leroy Bowman and all the volunteers whose dedication and commitment make it possible for MCC to send thousands of comforters to countries around the world each year. (Top photo: Part of Leroy Bowman’s collection of sewing supplies. Photos below: Leroy Bowman at work in his home at Brethren Village in 2006.)
For decades, 78-year-old Leroy Bowman worked on big machines. He fixed stone crushers, loaders and backhoes and tweaked screening machines that shake out different grades of rock. He liked hard, outside jobs best, laboring in the dust and roar of earth-moving equipment.
These days, he’s more likely to be sewing for MCC.
In a small bedroom at Brethren Village retirement community near Lititz, Pa., Leroy pulls patches of flowered fabric from neat stacks and joins them together. Outside a squirrel roots in the manicured lawn, soundless beyond the glass. The gentle whir of a sewing machine fills the room, and a comforter top grows under Leroy’s hands.
Every year MCC sends thousands of comforters and blankets to people in need, providing warmth and comfort, often to families who lost their homes to war or disaster.
Some of the bedding is purchased. Many of the comforters are crafted by volunteers like Leroy. All hold stories of giving and caring.
When Leroy married, his new bride Lydia’s prize possession was the Singer sewing machine she’d gotten for her 18th birthday.
It would hum through more than half a century of their lives together.
Eventually, though, Lydia’s fingers could no longer tie knots for the comforters she was devoted to making for MCC.
Leroy began knotting, then started cutting fabric for her. As her health declined, he began to sew.
When Lydia moved to a nursing facility at Brethren Village, Leroy kept squares ready for days when she felt well enough to sew. But increasingly, it fell to Leroy to do the sewing.
He showed her the comforters he made in his small room across the complex — and covered her bed with the ones she liked best.
Lydia died in February 2006, but the family tradition of making comforters for MCC continues.
“It’s like one lady said — ‘Lydia’s caring and sewing lives on in you.’ She’s passed on something good to me. I picked it up.”
- Leroy Bowman
These days, Leroy often sits at the sewing table, thinking, praying and joining squares. He finishes several comforter tops a week — each paying homage to Lydia and their 59 years together, a gift from his heart to families across the world.
Leroy has now made or helped to make hundreds of comforters. He’s sold a few and given some to his church, Sunnyside Mennonite, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but most have gone to MCC.
“It’s like one lady said — ‘Lydia’s caring and sewing lives on in you.’ She’s passed on something good to me. I picked it up,” says Leroy.