Now in her seventh decade as a volunteer, Gert Stewart crochets baby blankets for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. Her blankets are included in the junior sea bags given to families who participate in the Society’s Budget for Baby workshops. Until recently, however, Stewart was an active volunteer leader for the Society, and before that volunteered for the American Red Cross. Stewart has volunteered more than 51,000 hours for the Society.
“During my first years as a Navy wife I had some misunderstandings about the Navy Relief Society,” Stewart explained. “I thought only officers’ wives could do volunteer work for the Society so I devoted my spare time to Red Cross work. When I went back to look into the Society, I was very happy to find out I had been mistaken. Anyone can do volunteer work for the Society.”
Most of Stewart’s volunteer service for NMCRS has been in Lemoore, California, where she started in 1961 and where she still lives. During that time she and her husband moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, but returned to Lemoore. Stewart and her husband, who worked in aircraft maintenance and retired as a lieutenant commander, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in March 2003. He passed away in September that year.
She chaired the thrift store at NMCRS Lemoore from 1984 to 2006, and helped oversee the store’s relocation from various small spaces to a large gym, giving the store enough room to stock more merchandise. “When I first started, I was just looking for some sort of volunteer work,” Stewart explained. “Since I was associated with the base, I went to NMCRS because they were on the air station. The thrift shop was so busy and our prices were dirt cheap. All of us were volunteers and we made lots of money for the Society. When I was first there, we were open three days a week, and then increased it to five.”
Stewart also served as layette chair from 1970 to 1976 and has long used her knitting and crocheting skills to create baby blankets for the Society. She also made clothes for her own family when her kids were growing up. “My mother taught me to crochet and knit and sew when I was eight or nine years old,” Stewart recalled. “We lived on a farm and she taught me everything.” Rather than stick with traditional blue or pink blankets, Stewart prefers to work with a variety of colors. “My blankets are all variegated colors,” she said. “Mostly, the Society supplies the yarn, but sometimes I’ll pick out some yarn and put a blanket together with that.”
One time when Stewart visited the NMCRS Lemoore office to drop off some of her baby blankets she was offered some yarn that had been donated. “It was yellow and black,” she recalled, which didn’t strike her as ideal for a baby blanket. But, she created a pattern that was mostly yellow with a few black stripes, and brought it back to the office. “Some guy looked at it and said, ‘I’ve got to have that blanket! It’s gorgeous,” she laughed.
Working with both the thrift store and the layette program has proved rewarding for Stewart. “I’m helping people who might not be able to afford these things.”
At 82, Stewart is grateful for good health and remains active.
We’re grateful for Gert, and many other volunteers like her, who volunteer hundreds–and sometimes thousands–of hours to help Navy and Marine Corps service members and their families. Her legacy continues, one handmade baby blanket at a time.