Stitched with love: Rouquette circle helps preemies

By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald

“Multi-tasking” has a special meaning for a small clutch of residents at Rouquette Lodge IV, a Christopher Homes-managed apartment complex in Mandeville.

Nearly every day, a half-dozen women in their 70s, 80s and 90s gather in Rouquette’s community room for some lively fellowship, while crocheting snuggly blankets and hats for newborns.

But instead of making the items for their own friends and families, the industrious craftswomen donate their precious handiwork to people they probably will never meet: babies born prematurely at St. Tammany General Hospital and mothers seeking the services of Northlake Pregnancy Crisis Center, a pro-life, Christian-based maternity ministry in Mandeville.

“We sat down here and did nothing, so I figured we may as well do something productive while we’re sitting down here,” said Pam Marshall, who established the crochet circle in October in Rouquette’s community room, a popular venue for parties, television watching, computer time, trivia contests and board games.

“I came down one day with my crocheting (supplies) and then somebody else said, ‘Oh, I know how to do that!’” Marshall recalled. “So I said, ‘Bring your stuff down, too!’”

Snowbound crafter

Marshall, 75, taught herself how to crochet at age 8 as a means of beating boredom during the long winters of her youth in Falls City, Nebraska, her hometown of about 500 residents.

“I took a ball of string (and used) those little bitty hooks and just made chain after chain after chain,” Marshall said. “And then, when I was about 30 years old, somebody showed me what else to do with it.” 

The crocheters provide their own supplies and also receive supplementary yarn from a quilting group Marshall sews with on Thursdays at nearby Hosanna Lutheran Church. Another member of Marshall’s quilting group – Mary Miller – washes and sanitizes the crocheted items and packs them in plastic bags for delivery by church volunteers to mothers and babies in need.

Tiny gifts from the heart

New mothers typically receive a three-piece set: a crocheted blanket and matching hat made by the group from Rouquette; and a flannel receiving blanket sewn by Marshall and her fellow quilters.

The daily crocheting sessions at Rouquette can last anywhere from one to three hours. At one late-afternoon gathering in November, the women discussed the tailgating plans of their families for an upcoming Saints game. Their banter typically focuses on food, family and their respective idiosyncrasies.

“We just have a good time. We try not to get too serious,” Marshall said.

“They can joke and crochet at the same time – they don’t even have to look down at what they’re doing,” noted Peggy Carey, who plays a pivotal role in the crochet circle. Although arthritis makes it difficult for Carey to crochet as much as she used to, the 79-year-old is the group’s official “untangler.” She patiently feeds her friends’ flying hands a straight and steady stream of yarn so they don’t have to repeatedly start and stop their work.

“I untangle everything for them as they go along,” Carey explained.

Nuns passed down the skill

Crocheter Mary Liggio, 80, enjoys both the camaraderie and the selflessness of the group’s mission.

“We have fun – that’s the big thing – and we’re also doing something good. That combination is great,” said Liggio, a New Orleanian who began crocheting bedspreads and tablecloths with her mother at age 7. Liggio’s brothers were also taught the intricate craft, despite its traditional association with “women’s work.”

“My momma just loved to crochet. She was raised in the orphanage with nuns in Memphis, Tennessee,” Liggio explained. “She didn’t like to go to movies, so she sat at the nuns’ feet and learned how to crochet – she learned crocheting, tatting, everything.”

Although Liggio became proficient as an adult – her and her mother’s blankets once garnered first place at the St. Tammany State Fair – the busy mother of six abandoned the hobby for years and was slowed by arthritis in more recent years.

Marshall’s appearance in the community room, bearing needles and yarn, reignited Liggio’s interest overnight.

“I have to stop every now and then to rest my fingers,” Liggio said. “But I just love it!”

No age limit for learning

Beginning crocheters are welcome to join the circle at any time, with Marshall happily volunteering her teaching skills. The circle’s oldest member – 92-year-old crocheting novice Audrey Robert – said she is living proof that it is never too late to learn a new skill.

“I got jealous – they were having so much fun with the crocheting. I wanted to do it, too!” Robert said, critically surveying the uneven perimeter of her growing pastel-hued baby blanket.

“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I get up and crochet – then I get sleepy,” Robert chuckled. “It really does relax you!”

The group welcomes donations of yarn and flannel fabric. To help, e-mail Pam Marshall at dkkdma@msn.com.

Rouquette Lodge IV is part of Christopher Homes, Inc., which manages dignified and affordable housing for the elderly and disabled. Founded by Archbishop Philip Hannan in the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy, there are 21 Christopher Homes buildings at 14 sites, totaling 2,400 apartments, across the metro area. For more information, call 596-3460 or visit christopherhomesinc.org.

Beth Donze can be reached at bdonze@clarionherald.org.

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