When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck Ohio, Miriam Looker's top concern was keeping her children safe.
It's a feeling that doesn't go away just because your children are grown, the mother of nine said.
So when her youngest stepson, a family physician, said he couldn't find face masks for his patients to wear during their appointments, the 95-year-old quiltmaker from Marysville, Ohio, knew she had to help. And, luckily, she knew how.
She had the cotton fabric. She had a sewing machine. A Millersport manufacturer sold the elastic she needed for ear loops and there were plenty of instructions available online.
"I thought, 'Well, that's something I can do, and it's helpful.' So I did it," Looker said during a recent video call with The Dispatch. "When we're in quarantine, what you can do is limited. So I might as well make masks."
About 3,000 masks later, Looker hasn't stopped — not even after a bout with COVID-19 in November.
And she's proud to say her stepson hasn't contracted the virus.
In the spring, when reusable masks were hard to come by, Dr. Joe Linscott who has a practice in Marysville, distributed Looker's masks to all his patients.
Now Looker has made so many masks that they're protecting people throughout the city. With the help of Walnut Crossing, the senior-living community where she lives, donations have helped schools, her church, hospice centers and fellow residents, among others.
Looker has cut the fabric for all 3,000 masks and sewn about 1,700 of them. She tries to make 10 a day, with each one taking about 15 minutes, she said.
She recruited friends to help, including 89-year-old Joann Shroyer, who says she sewed most of the other 1,300.
When it comes to mask-making, Linscott, 57, compared Looker to Rosie the Riveter, the iconic character representing women who took on factory jobs during World War II.
"She's a big-time quilter, but she changed her whole assembly line to making masks for us," Linscott said. "Early on, there were no masks. It was hard to get them. She stepped up. She gave us bags at a time, sometimes 200 a week."
When asked about the comparison, Looker leaned back in her chair and laughed.
She wasn't a riveter during World War II, but she did test parachutes at Wilbur Wright Field in Dayton at about 20 years old.
"It kind of fits," she said, smiling.
Looker said recent studies suggesting homemade masks can curb the spread of COVID-19 are encouraging.
"It's kind of nice to know your efforts haven't been in vain," she said. "Maybe I did help somebody."
She's no stranger to donating her work for a worthy cause.
She normally spends hours each week sewing for Marysville First United Methodist Church's quilting club. The church supplies the materials and donates the quilts to nursing homes, police, firefighters, veterans, the poor and sick — anybody who might enjoy one, she said.
Walnut Crossing also has a quilt-making group that meets regularly.
Now that people aren't having as much difficulty finding them, Looker said her mask production is slowing down and she will likely resume quilting.
She had to take a break, though, while recovering from COVID-19.
"I spent a lot of time in my easy chair, with my eyes resting — some people call those naps," Looker joked. "I'd sleep all morning, eat lunch, and sleep all afternoon and all night."
Though her energy level still isn't 100%, Looker said she is feeling much better.
On Dec. 18, she said she had signed up to get her COVID-19 vaccine whenever it becomes available to Walnut Crossing residents, because so much is still unknown about a person's immunity after infection.
"If my getting it helps someone else, even, it's worth doing," Looker said. "They've worked hard on it. Enough people examined it. I'm getting it right away."
Looker said she enjoys being an active member of the community at Walnut Crossing, where she has lived for just over two years.
Walnut Crossing executive director Aimee Doneyhue praised Looker's efforts.
"Miriam breaks the stereotype of older adults and embodies the strength, devotion and compassion possessed by the residents of Walnut Crossing," she said in a statement. "She puts the 'great' in 'Greatest Generation.'"
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