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The Keepers of our Heritage

The Keepers of our Heritage

Article Contribution by: Encore.org

“These women are preserving the history of the valley – in the museum they maintain, in the stories they tell and in the quilts they create.”

For years I worked in education, part of that time overseas, and at the age of 60, I returned to Montana. I found a part-time job working for a nonprofit, but I was interested in becoming more involved with the community, especially with a group of older women whom I thought of as the heritage keepers for this rural valley.

They are hand-quilters and meet weekly from Labor Day through Memorial Day. I see these women as preserving the history of the rural valley in the museum they maintain, in the stories they tell and in the quilts they create. In an age when so much is electronic and people rely on communication limited to 140 characters, to sit around a quilting frame and listen to these women talk about the first newspaper in town, or what the valley was like before the dam was built, has a texture and depth that I appreciate. These women are in their 80s and 90s, so it felt imperative to join them and learn stories to pass on for future generations. As a plus, I am learning the techniques involved in hand quilting (who would have thought?!).

The proceeds from their work support the historical site and museum in the town of Eureka. I also began a blog for them, so there is a crossing-over from the old to the new. Some of the women who are tech-savvy even follow it and give me feedback. Besides creating a record of this remarkable group, it serves as advertising to bring in potential buyers for the quilts and other handmade items.

I see the quilters and the Historical Village in Eureka as a grounding element. Tourists come in and other visitors stop by to donate something old they found in their attic or ask a question. Does anyone happen to know what year the old Baney house was built? Who was Tom Shea’s grandmother? Every spring, the local school brings children over to learn about crafts such as quilting and spinning and visit the old buildings.

I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work with these women. They have a steady pace that, at times, surprises me. We start at 10:00am, take a 30-minute break for lunch and go back to quilting until 3:00pm. It’s rare to hear anyone complain. They are not only thoughtful of each other but they patiently talk with whoever walks through the door. I often think that these women model the traits I wish world leaders possessed.

Rita Collins

About the Author: Rita Collins. I am a believer in the power of community and for now I call the Tobacco Valley home. I have lived in nine states and three counties and this community here amazes me - how people reach out to neighbors and even travelers. I've never lived in a place that demonstrates people caring for each other so well. And I've never lived in a place that has such a high percentage of talented musicians and artists. I work with the the Sunburst Community Service Foundation, a nonprofit that began in Eureka twenty years ago and now serves numerous communities in western Montana. And I just started a new business, St. Rita's Amazing Traveling Bookstore and Textual Apothecary. I never could have imagined life being this exciting in my sixth decade.

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---- Visit NW Montana ----

VisitNWMontana.com is all about inspiring, promoting and helping to build and sustain NW Montana through stories, blogs, photos and fun – one person, one business and one experience at a time.

Northwestern Montana is a charming area of quaint towns, millions of acres of state and federal land, hiking, camping, waterfalls, rock climbing, fishing and hunting, skiing and snowmobiling. We offer an impressive collection of shops, art galleries, golf courses, bed and breakfasts, spas, and restaurants not to mention annual events such as the Bull Thing, the Ten Lakes Snowmobile Fun Run, and the Eureka Montana Quilt Show. Enjoy the outdoors and the small town spirit that makes you feel right at home. Stay for a short trip, or meet with a realtor to find out about owning your own little piece of Montana real estate.

Where are we and how do you get here? Fly into Glacier National Park Airport (FCA) or Spokane International Airport (GEG). Eureka is 7 miles from the Canadian (Roosville) Border and 67 miles east of Libby or 51 miles north of Whitefish.

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