ST. GEORGE — Valerie Johnson, 88, has never been one to sit around and do nothing. She can’t be found sitting at home and watching TV. Instead, she keeps busy by knitting hats with a group of four other women and delivering them to the Intermountain Cancer Center.
Since the death of her husband in 2019, Johnson and her knitting group have made and delivered 155 hats to the cancer center. Johnson, of St. George, started the group to give herself and her friends, who all live alone, the chance to socialize and do something good as well as to make gifts for cancer patients.
“I decided that maybe there’d be some ladies in our development here that would like to do this kind of thing,” Johnson said. “Not only are we doing something constructive with our time, it’s a social kind of thing too. It benefits us individually in many ways.”
Johnson’s husband was a cancer patient for six years before he died. While he was being treated, the couple spent more and more time at home, Johnson said. So she started knitting hats, some for her husband and some for other patients.
The September after his death, the group made its first donation of hats, and they make another drop-off every time they accumulate about 10 or 20 hats. Most of the yarn they use is given to them by neighbors or friends.
“In our age group, we’re all trying to get rid of our clutter,” Johnson said with a laugh.
Johnson and two other women in the group knit: one does the crocheting and one uses a round loom. The group did not meet while the state was under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, but have since been wearing masks when they’re together and Johnson wipes down the table and chairs with Lysol.
None of the women in the group have been exposed to the virus, but because they are all at risk they take precautions, Johnson said.
In addition to the hats for the cancer center, Johnson has also made hats for patients at Children’s Primary Hospital in Salt Lake City and for her family members, including a nine-year-old relative from Virginia who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Johnson sent her more than 20 hats while she was going through treatment so she would have a variety.
“She was trying to go to school and everything and I wanted her to have different colors so they would match her clothes and things that she was wearing,” Johnson said. “And I thought maybe she has some friends that she met at the cancer center there that she could trade the hats with.”
It takes about two hours for Johnson to complete a hat, she said, unless she’s trying out a new pattern or more complicated stitch. The good thing about knitted hats is that they’re stretchier than they look, and if they’re too big they can be put in the dryer on low heat and they’ll shrink down, Johnson said. The staff at the cancer center have always been grateful for the donations, no matter the size, she said.
Before the pandemic, hats that were donated to the hospital were left out so patients could take them as needed, but that is no longer the case, said Lance Madigan, a spokesman for Intermountain Health.
The group made its last drop-off on Nov. 19 and is getting ready to donate more.
“I think the worst word in the dictionary is widow,” Johnson said. “When you have lived with someone for 54 years and then they’re gone, you have nobody to talk to. So it’s just a double shot, socially, and we’re doing something for the community.”
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