(Photo by Blaine McCartney/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

'This is what I am here to do'

In 2011, Department of Kansas American Legion Rider Dennis Joynt got interested in quilting. He became involved in Quilts of Valor, a national program with a mission to cover servicemembers and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing quilts.

What started as a hobby has become a mission for Joynt and his wife, Lynn. Since then, the pair have combined to create more than 200 quilts for veterans both in Kansas and now in Wyoming, where the pair relocated in 2016.

“We don’t look at these quilts as gifts to our veterans,” said Dennis, a life Legion Rider for Post 136 in Mulvane, Kan., and current member of Post 6 in Cheyenne, Wy. “It’s an award presented to them for their service.”

Dennis, who regularly takes part in Rolling Thunder’s annual Run for the Wall and has been on nine American Legion Legacy Runs, originally got into sewing to put patches on his leather vests. And after attending his first Quilts of Valor meeting, Joynt got hooked on the idea of making quilts for veterans.

But what really inspired him was visiting the Kansas Veterans Home in Winfield while he was serving as the Veterans Affairs coordinator for the Legion Riders. “I saw that (all of the residents) had military beds, sheets, pillows and blankets, but there were no quilts on any of the beds,” he said. “The lady giving me the tour had never even heard of Quilts of Valor.”

Dennis came up with a standard size quilt, and he and his wife set out on a mission of providing quilts to the home’s residents. Within a few years they’d made more than 50 – no small feat, considering the average quilt takes 24-28 hours of continuous work to complete.

Dennis and his wife cover most of the expenses to make the quilts and have purchased a quilting machine to help the process. It’s helped them continue their mission at the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where they provide quilts to residents in the domiciliary program.

And the pair also now create what is called a Final Salute Quilt to patients in the facility’s hospice program. The quilt is given to the veteran, and when the veteran passes away it is placed over his or her body bag. Fellow veterans and employees line up in the hall and salute the body as it is taken out; afterward, the quilt is given to the veteran’s family.

Dennis said he plans to keep quilting “as long as my eyesight holds up and as long as my mental capacity holds up. To me, as a Vietnam veteran, it can be very easy to say that this is my mission,” Dennis said. “This is what I am here for, and this is what I am here to do.”