As many contemplate their resolutions and goals for the year ahead, Bernie Wood is reflecting on the 365 days of 2019 where she loomed one warm, winter hat, for a child, for each day of the past year.
The hat project began five years ago when 71-year-old Wood, a retired teacher, and passionate, community advocate, decided to make winter hats for all the children in the first grade classroom at Ferguson Elementary School where she served as a foster grandma.
Wood set the 2019 hat making goal after the happy hats she continued to make for classrooms of kids, clubs, community groups, and friends snowballed with social media praise and promotion for their beauty and goodness. Wood did a final year end tally of 600 actual hats made for children in 2019 — 409 which she made herself, and the balance of 191 hats, being made by a group of treasured friends, who call themselves, “The Loom Ladies.”
The hats are all different colors and combinations. Wood even does bright neon, team-color, rainbow tie-dye hats for the local Special Olympics athletes, she coaches. Coming up with the spectrum of other combinations is also a fun experiment in art and design.
“Lots of times, when I have so many options and variations to choose from, I will just go with whatever moves me,” said Wood, smiling. “Sometimes the colors are by request, but most of the time, I will play with different selections and find just the right color combos. If I have lots of little balls of yarn to use up, then someone will get a hat of many colors!”
A presentation ceremony of hats is very special. Last year when Wood gave hats to more than 75 kindergarten students at Henley Elementary, there was an official presentation where she told the story of why she loved to make the hats, and how, she hoped, the children would find a hat that made them especially happy.
“When I asked each child why they chose the color of hat that they did, I was amazed at how closely the colors matched the child’s personality,” marveled Martha McCambridge, Henley Elementary media department paraprofessional.
Grateful educators at the school said they loved seeing all the different colors, of hats on little heads, bob around the playground making it appear as though there were ice cream sundaes skipping everywhere.
When asked where she gets the materials to make so many hats, Wood noted that people generously give her supplies and ask her to work her “Bernie magic!” with the yarn skeins of all shapes, colors, styles and sizes. It takes one-and-a-half skeins of yarn to make a child’s hat.
“People gift me the yarn, or I buy it, and I am always watching for great deals,” said Wood. “Recently I was gifted eight garbage bags of yarn that I have just finished organizing.”
And organization is crucial for Bernie’s projects. Tall towers of yarn, packed lovingly by color in banker’s boxes, adorn her cozy craft room. Wreaths and baskets hang from her garage beams, placed strategically above rows upon rows of bins and totes stuffed with treasures and special surprises of books, backpacks, and craft items. Each of the items will eventually be given to, or used in a fundraiser for, children who she strives to serve, with caring and connection.
Inspired by community
Wood’s affection and connection to community does not end with her hat making masterpieces. She is an active and contributing volunteer and project participant with Special Olympics, (Start Making A Reader Today) SMART Reading, Oregon Retired Educators, Foster Grandparents, the Oregon Association of Educators for Young Children, her church, and Alpha Delta Kappa teaching sorority. She does all this in addition to playing an active role in three garden clubs, locally and statewide. It is the gardening, in fact, that Wood credits for much project inspiration.
“Planting a seed and watching it grow is a beautiful thing,” said Wood. “This is how I feel about the joy I get from helping many of these projects grow.”
Marveling friends and fans often ask Wood how she keeps all her giving projects going, organized and on track.
“I love lists,” laughed Woods. Rather than agonize over things, I write it all down. I write down ideas I have for my groups. I write down the things I think about that might grow into a bigger idea. I keep lists everywhere — my car, my couch table, my tote bags, and when some lists get shorter, they merge into another list. That way I stay on track with every project and all the planning!” Wood enthusiastically explained.
Wood and her husband, Bill, who is retired from the Bureau of Reclamation, will celebrate 50 years of marriage this summer. Wood credits Bill’s patience and understanding for his steadfast support of her many “projects.”
When asked why she does not just take some time to relax in retirement, Wood graciously dismisses the idea.
“I do all this for the joy of giving and I do not need any acknowledgement,” said Wood. It brings me such satisfaction to know that I am making others happy and fostering connections to community that are good for everyone.”
Hats off, Klamath community, to Bernie Wood.