Her husband's affection for hand-quilting may not have been typical of most men, but Carol Kato finds a special comfort in the handmade quilts created by her late husband.
An avid quilter in the final decade-and-a-half of his life, Kenneth "Ken" Wuest was the lone male member of the Shady Cove Material Girls quilting club and a renowned hand-quilter of the Mountain Stars Quilting Guild.
"He was crazy about quilting," Carol recalls with a smile.
"You'll find that the men that do get into quilting are engineers, which he was. They like the geometric aspect of it. The strange thing was he didn't know how to use a sewing machine so all his work was done by hand. People were really amazed at what he could produce."
Though the Eagle Point couple had been friends and neighbors long before they got married, his quilting addiction served as a "pickup line," Carol remembers with a laugh.
"That was his big come-on line. 'Come on over and see my quilts!'"
Wed in 2002, the pair moved to the Rogue Valley a year later, where Ken immediately joined the Shady Cove Material Girls and the Mountain Star Quilters Guild. In doing so, he earned the distinction as the club's "token male," says Material Girls' member and friend Jan Johnson.
"He was the token male is what we called him. He said he was masculine enough he didn't have any issues about being one of the Material Girls," Johnson recalls.
"As a person, the impact he had was unbelievable. When Ken was there, it was always jovial, always positive and uplifting. He was always an encourager," she says. "He was only with us for awhile but he was a true blessing."
After Ken's diagnosis in 2005, his unusual hobby provided comfort. Even as his fingers became numb from neuropathy, the Material Girls' "token male" would spend hours quilting. As Ken began chemotherapy, he set to work on a special star patterned quilt in varying shades of gray with a red border. It was a bit more serene and less colorful than quilts he'd completed before.
"It was a special star pattern and somehow it had meaning to him," says Carol.
"I think it was a way to get through the treatment"¦ He worked on the top of the quilt until he couldn't do it any more. He got to where he started pricking his fingers and getting blood all over the back."
While Ken didn't ask his wife to finish his quilt, his disappointment at being unable to quilt was painfully obvious. When Ken passed away last August, Carol had a slew of memories in which to seek comfort, from trips around the world to time spent tending their 40-plus rose varieties.
Ironically, his quilts brought the most comfort, though. Just as Ken had quilted during his battle against cancer, Carol says her own grieving process took place as she committed to finishing her husband's final quilt.
"I felt like it was like finishing a book, finishing someone's story," she says.
"I just felt that I had to finish the quilt for him." And when that day came, Carol gave the quilt to the Providence Oncology Center to be hung where Ken had once seen another quilt created by a cancer patient.
"I think he's going to be pleased to know that it's hanging somewhere people can look at it," she says.
Her only regret is that had Ken finished the quilt on his own, perhaps the stitching would have been more precise.
"I noticed when I was working on this one, it wasn't the kind of work he usually did. The stitches are bigger than usual, but even at his worst, his stitching would have been far more meticulous than mine," Carol says. "He used to pride himself at how well the corners fit, how small his stitches were."
She adds, "Mostly, I'm glad that Ken's quilt will be displayed for people to enjoy. He would have really been pleased."