LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – Shelley Shellenberger sits in a chair by the window in his Landis Homes apartment, wrapping strands of yarn around the pegs of a Knifty Knitter loom.
After he has wrapped enough yarn and used a hook to pull the colorful strands together and back up over the pegs many times, a multicolored ski cap will emerge from the round loom.
These hats – the current batch sits in rows on a nearby table – will find their way to warm heads of needy children and adults in Eastern Europe, courtesy of Christian Aid Ministries in Ephrata.
Since the 94-year-old retired dairy farmer and Mennonite pastor started making the caps about 10 years ago, he has produced 1,150 of them. That’s a lot of cold heads warmed by the work of his fingers.
The impressive output comes despite the stroke Shellenberger had decades ago and his loss of three fingers on one hand in a long-ago farming accident.”I usually choose the colors,” his wife, Mildred, says, “and he makes the caps. . Then I take it off of the frame, and pull it together at the top. I sew it and put a pompom on it that’s the same color as the stripe.”
A CAP A DAY, TWO A WEEK
Shellenberger started making the caps in 2007, after his sister-in-law, Helen Martin, taught him how to use the loom.
“She said, ‘You could do this,'” Shellenberger recalls. “So she taught me, and I started. I never thought I would make so many caps. I can make one in a day,” he adds, “but it usually takes me two days. I just make them at my leisure.”
His wife figures he has made an average of two a week. “He’s very tired, so he sleeps a lot,” she says. “He can’t work at it like he could before.”
When the caps are finished, she puts each one in a plastic bag and marks it for an adult or child. Then, she takes the hats to the Christian Aid Ministries office in Ephrata.
“When they see something coming in a plastic bag, they know it’s new,” she says. “They’re so used to getting used clothing; getting something new is quite special.”
Jon Stoltzfus, who handles public relations for the ministry’s local office, says the donated caps join lots of other clothing sent to the organization’s warehouse in Shipshewana, Indiana, for sorting by volunteers.
“Moldova, Ukraine and Romania are the most likely places they would wind up,” Stoltzfus says. The ministry also provides humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in both Syria and Jordan, so those are other possible destinations for the clothing, which is put in large containers to be shipped overseas.
‘GOD LED US TOGETHER’
That Mildred Shellenberger, 76, finishes the caps her husband starts is symbolic of their relationship. A former nurse, she takes care of her husband’s daily health needs.
Shellenberger had been a dairy farmer near Mount Joy area for 30 years and pastor of Mount Joy Mennonite Church for 21. But the stroke ended his pastoral career in 1993.
His first wife, Margaret, died in 1996, after they’d been married 52 years, and he was lonely.
Mildred Shellenberger had worked as a nurse at Lancaster General Hospital and then Brethren Village.
“I wasn’t expecting to get married,” his wife says. “I thought I’d be a nurse all my life. But one day he called me. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me. But three people who knew me – in two weeks’ time – called him and suggested he date me,” she recalls.
“So he called me on a Friday evening,” she adds. “We dated for nine weeks. In five weeks (I realized) he fit the whole list of characteristics I’d like in a husband if God ever gave me one.”
Shellenberger popped the question right before Christmas in 1997; they were married in May 1998.
“We felt God led us together,” Mildred Shellenberger says.
In 1994, Shellenberger went to Eastern Europe with a group sponsored by Cross Links, an Akron-based organization that provides humanitarian and developmental aid to Moldova, Ukraine and other countries.
“They took seeds and clothes and food,” his wife says, and her husband saw, in person, the need for warm clothing there.
His wife has a notebook in which she keeps track of every single cap she and her husband have made – including date completed, size and colors. “She keeps track of everything,” Shellenberger says with a laugh.
His wife has even kept track of his life story, writing it up in verse. She says she learned things about him through that exercise that she might not otherwise have known.
When they’re not making caps together, she likes to make birthday cards using pictures from old calendars to make envelopes. And he likes to play crokinole, a tabletop carrom-type game.
Mildred Shellenberger often finishes her husband’s sentences when he loses his place.
“I’m kind of forgetful,” he says. “I’m (almost) 95, and my memory isn’t so good anymore.
“I couldn’t live without her,” he says, to which his wife replies, “When he has a problem, he comes to me.”
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