UMW celebrates legacy one stitch at a time

Todd Seifert


When United Methodist Women of the Great Plains Conference decided they wanted to commemorate the 150th anniversary of UMW in 2019, they decided to put the crafting skills of women in Kansas and Nebraska to work making a quilt.

Marilyn Zehring of Columbus, Nebraska, and Louise Niemann of David City, Nebraska, display the recently completed Legacy Fund quilt, which includes images provided by quilters in all 17 districts of the Great Plains Conference. Photo by Todd Seifert

But this is no ordinary quilt.

Built into each stitch is a love for God, a desire to commemorate the work of the past and a legacy of missions that provides hope for the future – all contained within the imagery from predecessor organizations as well as all 17 Great Plains Conference districts.

“I think the people who have seen the quilt so far have looked at the conference differently than they have before,” said Louise Niemann, a member at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in David City, Nebraska, and chair of the South Central Jurisdiction’s UMW Committee on Nominations. “This quilt is something that creates a legacy while also promoting unity throughout the conference.”

The heirloom is officially known as the Legacy Quilt. The goal is to promote the Legacy Fund, which is a forward-looking, permanently invested endowment. The earnings are expected to strengthen the organization so that future giving can be even more directly linked to UMW projects and partners that address injustice and alleviate suffering.

“The Legacy Fund will make it possible to keep mission projects going throughout the world for at least another 150 years,” said Marilyn Zehring, a member of First United Methodist Church in Columbus, Nebraska, and chair of the UMW’s Great Plains Conference Legacy Fund. She explained that the quilt spotlights the unique aspects of the conference’s 17 districts while also celebrating predecessor organizations, such as the Woman’s Society of Christian Service of the Methodist Church, the Women’s Society of World Service, of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the former Kansas East and West conferences and the former Nebraska Conference.

A brochure that provides details about the imagery in each square states that the UMW identifies its roots as a meeting between eight women on March 23, 1869, at Tremont Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston. That first group of women wanted to address the needs of the women in India. The Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society began and raised money to send a doctor and a teacher to that country.

“Clara Swain and Isabella Thoburn started a hospital and a school,” Zehring said, “and they are still in use today.”

The quilt truly was a group effort, with more than 25 women from Kansas and Nebraska, along with one from Missouri, crafting 23 blocks. Designs include a three-dimensional sunflower for the Hutchinson District, the capital building for the Topeka District, river scenes for the Blue River and Missouri River districts and celebrations of Camp Horizon in the Wichita East District and Epworth Village in the Prairie Rivers District.

“It took about a year to pull it all together,” Zehring said.

Quilter Carol Benninga, a member at Clay Center United Methodist Church in Kansas, helped lead the effort on the quilt by designing it and determining the placement for each square. The squares were sent to women in each district, who decided the image for their square and then sent the completed piece to Benninga to be stitched into the final product. Susie Randle of Morganville, Kansas did the hand quilting, and Benninga provided finishing work.

“It was exciting to go to the mailbox each day and see what came in,” Benninga said.

After consultation with others, she determined the overall size of the quilt, but she didn’t determine the color of the borders and corner pieces until many of the district pieces had arrived at her home, where she has a special quilt room in a building that also includes a wood shop built by her husband. Ultimately, Benninga decided to use a shade of beige.

“I knew I wanted to use neutrals because I really wanted the blocks to stand out,” she said.

And stand out they do. Benninga crafted the Great Plains Conference name and squares that pay tribute to previous women’s groups. The UMW vision motto of “Faith, Hope and Love in Action” takes up three sections at the top. The remainder of the quilt honors the three previous conferences that comprise the current Great Plains and special imagery for each of the 17 districts.

Zehring said the completed quilt will be on display at the annual conference session June 13-16 in Wichita and the United Methodist Women’s annual meeting Sept. 14-15 at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, before it begins an itinerancy to all districts. She believes the tour likely will take about two years.

Niemann said the quilt is one way to remember what UMW has stood for during its nearly 150 years of service in mission to the world.

“Social justice issues were taken up by women,” Niemann said. “We take action today for the women who will come after us through faith, hope and love.”

Legacy Quilt Participants

Chair of the Legacy Fund Marilyn Zehring (Columbus, NE)
Quilt Designer Carol Benninga (Clay Center, KS)
Hand Quilter Susie Randle (Morganville, KS)
Quilt Finishing Carol Benninga (Clay Center, KS)
Quilt Blocks Quilter
Great Plains Conference Rogene Silletto (Lincoln, NE)
Former Kansas East Conference Sharon Springer (Westmoreland, KS)
Former Kansas West Conference Diane Thompson (Sedgwick, KS)
Former Nebraska Conference Denise Larson (Beatrice, NE)
Women's Society of Christian Service (Methodist) Carol Benninga (Clay Center, KS)
Women's Society of World Service (EUB) Carol Benninga (Clay Center, KS)
United Methodist Women Carol Benninga (Clay Center, KS)
Blue River District Rogene Silletto (Lincoln, NE)
Dodge City District Mary Oliver (Santana, KS)
Marcia Hatcher (Santana, KS)
Elkhorn Valley District Nancy W. Davis (Norfolk, NE)
Five Rivers District Peggy Claggett (Eudora, KS)
Darla McFadden (Eudora, KS)
Flint Hills District Mary Lou DeLong (Emporia, KS)
Gateway District Carol Whitesel (Miller, NE)
Great West District Karen Harford (Haigler, NE)
Tina Kitt (Wauneta, NE)
Hays District Kari Schultz (Hays, KS)
Hutchinson District LaVonne Gerritzen (Great Bend, KS)
Kansas City District Barbara Smith (Lake Winnebago, MO)
Missouri River District Sharon Ostlund (Papillion, NE)
Parsons District Betty Neville (Coffeyville, KS)
Prairie Rivers District United Methodist Women (Aurora, NE)
Salina District Lynette Saltzman (Jamestown, KS)
Topeka District Debra Hochard (Oskaloosa, KS)
Cindy Ladd (Effingham, KS)
Wichita East District Rita Paddock (Rose Hill, KS)
Wichita West District Diane Thompson (Sedgwick, KS)

Contact Todd Seifert, communications director, at

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