WORTHINGTON — If Betty Pomrenke had a second copy of the phrase, “This is my happy place,” she’d have it proudly displayed in her flower gardens. As it is, the coaster that bears those words is stationed in her downstairs sewing room.
Quilting and gardening have been Pomrenke’s two great loves since she retired in 2011 from the Nobles County Public Health department. While gardening is primarily a spring-through-fall activity, her quilting is a year-round hobby.
Some of Pomrenke’s handiwork is on display in the open class building during the Nobles County Fair this week in Worthington. She entered two quilted wall hangings and two full-size quilts, as well as 14 different flowers, earning a multitude of purple ribbons, including grand champion, reserve grand champion and the Sweepstakes Award for her floral entries, and grand and reserve champion in quilting.
Her talents have come from years of practice — her mom taught her to sew on a treadle sewing machine when she was 10 years old, and since her parents owned and operated a greenhouse for many years, she also developed a green thumb at an early age.
“I learned a lot in home ec and 4-H, too,” said Pomrenke, who was a member of the Goewey Goldenrods 4-H Club in Osceola County during her childhood and teen years.
“(Mom) was never a real fussy sewer,” she confided. “I am. It drives me crazy when something doesn’t come out.”
Pomrenke recalled the story from her early teens when she was trying to put a zipper in a skirt and became frustrated when it didn’t look right. She threw it across the kitchen, and her mom said, “Just walk away for a while and it will all come together.”
“My sister can’t believe I have the patience to sew now,” Pomrenke said.
Quilting fills her long winter days and even during the heat of the summer, when she can’t stand to be outside.
“Some weeks I’ll be down there for three to four days sewing and some weeks I don’t get down there at all,” she said. “I think my sewing has gotten me through a lot after my son passed away and then my grandson. It’s therapy.”
Over the years, she’s made memory bears and memory quilts, quilted birth announcements, baby quilts, table runners, wall hangings and full-sized quilts — many of them for family and special friends.
“I made a memory quilt for my granddaughter (featuring photos of) our son. It was her dad that we lost 20 years ago,” said Pomrenke said of the project, which was given as a graduation gift.
She bought her sewing machine — a Bernina with an embroidery module — when she was still working. Since her retirement, the machine “has been well-used,” she said.
Her quilt entries at the county fair include a colorfully embellished wall hanging that features embroidery, quilted pinwheel flowers, buttons and butterflies, and a second wall hanging fashioned of fabric to give it a stained glass appearance. They garnered reserve and champion, respectively.
The two full-sized quilts were created from block-of-the-month projects, one of which Pomrenke expanded to better fit a queen-sized bed.
The four quilts were all made within the last year, and she had a pair of additional quilts that weren’t entered, as Pomrenke had already given them as gifts.
With each quilt that is completed, Pomrenke has a stash of fabric and a stack of ideas to begin her next project. Currently, she’s piecing a patriotic quilt to be donated to the Honor Flight program at Sioux Center, Iowa. The quilt features fabrics and a panel passed along to her following the death of her friend and fellow quilter, Eunice Ailts, and she will pass the finished quilt on to the lucky bidder in an Honor Flight fundraiser.
She’s also working on a quilt that includes a lot of hand embroidery, and scrolls through the photos on her cell phone that document her projects.
“I have more pictures of my quilting than I do of my grandchildren,” she said with a laugh.
As a member of the local Stash & Scrappy Quilt Guild, Pomrenke has learned a lot about quilting techniques and developed many friendships with her fellow quilters.
“We’ve got a lot of great quilters in this county,” she said.
While Pomrenke enjoys everything about her quilting hobby, from cutting and piecing fabrics together to binding, she hires someone to actually quilt the larger quilt tops. The smaller pieces, like table runners or smaller quilts, are quilted by her.
Pomrenke has exhibited quilted projects for just the past few years at the county fair, but her entries in the flower gardening competition stem back to her first year of membership in the Worthington Garden Club.
Among her most prized entries are the crested celosia (also known as a fan cockscomb), which was a flower her grandmother always raised. She buys seeds each year and then takes them to her niece, who operates the Rhodes Greenhouse in Nevis, so they can get a good start.
“Then I bring them back and the garden club gals and some of my neighbors and friends all want some,” Pomrenke said.
Her red rosebud geranium dates back more than 40 years, and thrives under the extra care Pomrenke provides. She takes slips from the plant each fall and puts them in pots in her sewing room window. By spring, they’re blooming. The plant is extra special because it’s a variety she can’t find in the area greenhouses.
Pomrenke also exhibited an angel wing begonia, which she’s also kept for more than 40 years.
“(It) came from my sister and she gave me a slip,” Pomrenke said.
With their parents owning a greenhouse, it was no surprise Pomrenke and her siblings developed a knack for growing things.
“My mother always had a half-acre garden at least,” she said. “That was something she started when we were quite young, and we each had a 20- by 20-foot patch.”
In their patch, they could grow whatever they wanted.
Pomrenke said one year she wanted to grow peanuts, so that’s what she planted. For flowers, she liked to plant 4 o’clocks that — as the name implies — bloom at 4 p.m. each day.
These days, Pomrenke can be found in her flower beds each morning and evening, when it’s still relatively cool outside. Her husband, Glenden, is a great help with weeding and spading, she noted.
Pomrenke enjoys exhibiting at the fair and wishes more people would share their talents.
“I want to see more people exhibit; that’s why I bring things,” she said. “I don’t want to see it fade out. I always check out most of the exhibits, and I want to see the 4-H continue like it has.”