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Bringing warmth to the soldiers

As long as we have troops serving overseas, a rural Pennock woman will probably keep knitting caps for them. She always makes sure she tucks a little note into the inside each cap. That note reads ‘Dear soldier: may you feel the warmth and love knitted into this cap, we pray for your safe return to your loved ones.’ These caps are sent to soldiers serving overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, a project started by Marlys (Mrs. Owen) Anderson of rural Pennock after their grandson was sent overseas. “I hadn’t knitted for years, then my grandson went to Korea. Knowing its cold over there I sent him a stocking cap. He sent me an email back saying ‘its great grandma, I need 35 more.’” Marlys and Owen spend their winters in an RV park in Arizona and at a meeting of the park board she asked if there were people there interested in knitting or donating towards the project. Marty Brek, a comedian who was performing at the RV park offered to donate the proceeds from his show to the cause. “Not only did he donate his portion, but the park donated their portion too so it was over $1,100.” The money was used for yarn, postage and other small supplies. It was just overwhelming, Marlys said. “I’m going ‘wow, wow, wow.’” The knitters in the park came forward, she said, as did friends out of the park. “I had like 40 knitters knitting.” Marlys said she pretty much got to be known as the bag lady of the park, she’d get an order of yarn, bag it up, hop on her bike and take it to the various knitters. “I’m the bag lady around the park.” She said a lot of husbands were there and they were overwhelmed. “I thanked them for letting their wives knit for me. They said ‘no, thank you.’” One of the men had served in Korea, she said, and told her ‘you don’t know what it means to get something from home.’ She said the knitters at the park in Arizona came from California, New York, Canada, Arizona and states in-between. She doesn’t know how many knitters there are but there’s probably 30 to 40 in Minnesota that she knows of. “Most everybody that has knit a cap puts a note in it, and every cap that leaves my house has a note in it.” She said the back of each note contains information as to the fact the caps are 100 percent wool, directions to wash it in cold water, her email address in case someone wants more caps and that the cap has been knit by hand and the name of the grandmother that knit the cap or if not by a grandmother then that person’s first name, and the city in which they live. “Its personalized to each cap.” Marlys said she’s heard from several of the soldiers including her grandson. One is a chaplain Kuwait. “I had sent him 142 of the caps in July and another 80 after that because he needed some more.” That’s pretty much where they (the soldiers) first come in she said, and from there are sent to Afghanistan or Iraq. She got a note from a woman in the Air Force named Christina, who had received a cap from a chaplain when she entered the service. “She sent me two really nice notes and it got to be where we were communicating back and forth between us. I had sent her 80 and she said in a note a week later she had over half of them passed out already.”  December of last year was when they sent the first cap to their grandson. Since then they’ve made over 700 of them and are going strong. “I don’t know how many of my knitters had taken yarn home with them for the summer. I’ll get those when I get back to the park.” Instead of having them mail the caps to her, Marlys has them keep the caps until they return to Arizona at which time they bring them along. “I’m just telling them to keep the hats until I get home to Minnesota or home to Arizona and I’ll pick them up then unless I really need them and then I’ll tell them to send them to me, but with the cost of the postage I don’t want to do that (have them sent to her). The cost to send two boxes with 80 caps in each box is $61. “It is costly. And I don’t just send the caps, I send them a treat as well.” The last two boxes she sent included a large bag of tootsie rolls and some crystal light drinks. “Their water gets a little boring after a while.” Knitting these caps has been quite rewarding, Marlys said. “I don’t know how many I’ve knitted all told, I’d say 80 but its probably more.” She has knitters in quite a few communities around this area including a woman in Pennock and another one in Kerkhoven. The colors used for the caps have to be dark, she explained, and if there are any stripes they have to be high up on the crown. The colors have to be dark so no attention is drawn to then, they can’t be light or bright. “It has to be dark dull colors like browns and greens. Beige works but we do stick with the darker colors.” Marlys’ grandson told her through email that the soldiers who got the caps were going to pay her. “I said ‘no way. That’s not going to happen. This is just something I do.” She said it takes five to six hours to knit a cap and there are 5,115 stitches in a cap, all in support and love for these soldiers. “They’re very stretchy and will fit any guy, some may look small but once you put them on they’re not.” In regards to the number of stitches in a cap, Marlys said she was sitting in Arizona one night and thought to herself ‘there’s more to this,’ and then figured out how many rows in a cap and how many stitches to a row. She brought the results to the next park meeting because they wanted an update. “When I said ‘we’ve done 60 caps times 5,115 stitches which equates to….they were all kind of roaring.” Marlys said what she’s doing is very rewarding. With the first group of caps her husband was worried about where those 170 caps were going, but just like that they went. The Benson Weavers needed caps, Marlys said, they had a request for 550 and didn’t know how they were going to make that many. “We supplied from Arizona 171 for them. I found a ride for them to Minnesota, got them to my brother, he took them to Benson. I sent another box of 35 and brought home more and met the knitters group in Benson. They were pretty overwhelmed and glad to meet me after hearing about what we were doing in Arizona.” A lot of the knitters thank Marlys for letting them knit. “I get emails from knitters wanting a pattern or thanking me for doing this.” She even has a man helping with the knitting. “He kept coming to the local group (the Willmar Knitters) and talking to the ladies and all of a sudden he brought needles and yarn and started knitting.” Maybe next year they’ll have more men knitting, she said. The knitters come from a lot of areas locally including Pennock, Kerkhoven, Willmar, Atwater, Hector, Spicer, New London, Olivia, Litchfield, and Hutchinson. Marlys keeps track of everything from expenses to knitters, letters she’s written or received, patterns, pictures, receipts and more. She keeps track of who they are and what state they live in. “When we were in Arizona and just starting out I would note which knitters I left samples with, how many skiens of yarn, and how many they completed. “You can get two caps out of a skien.” The yarn has to be 100 percent wool, she said because the wool absorbs the sweat, keeps them warm, the wool yarn won’t melt if there’s a head injury, and it keeps the fine sand out of their eyes. Marlys is always stopping at garage sales looking for knitting needles. “I look in Goodwill, any thrift store hoping I can find more. With all the knitters, not everybody can afford to pay for these, so with the donations I night help these people get their knitting needles.” At one of the garage sales she stopped at she ran into a woman who had a nephew and a grandson that were in either Iraq or Afghanistan. She gave her two caps for them and they’ve been emailing each other ever since. She’s always looking for donations so she can buy more yarn and needles. She just purchased 100 skiens she’ll be taking to Arizona. She’s also excited because her grandson is coming home from the Army for a couple of weeks in November. After that he’ll be stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas and after a year will probably be deployed. Their 17 year old grandson has enlisted in the Army and will be going to Fort Benning in Georgia in July. This entire project has been overwhelming and very rewarding, Marlys said. “People search their lives for making a difference and at 66 I’m glad I can make a difference.” Marlys is always looking for more knitters and currently is working on an order for 2,700 knit caps. She needs the completed caps by the spring of 2011. Before Anderson knew about this current order, she sent 500 caps to a woman in Idaho she met while in Arizona. This woman started a knitting group after talking with Marlys and her first order was for 2,700 caps, so Anderson sent the 500 caps to help her with that project. “About a week after that I found out that Minnesota was having a group of 2,700 deployed.” That meant she had to get busy and needed to recruit more knitters. Anyone wishing to volunteer their time knitting or to make a monetary donation, should use the main search engine and type in (Anderson says Google doesn’t work for this address), or the website There is also a guest book on her website where you can leave a message or you can call her at 320-354-3704. Anderson said the soldiers really appreciate the caps. She said the emails they receive back from the soldiers are priceless. One soldier’s email read “I just wanted to let you know that this is what counts to soldiers when they are on deployment. Little things like these beanies really let us know that while we may be hating life, there are people still half way around the world who have never met us, who may not believe in the work we do, but who believe in us 100 percent.” Anderson said she’s glad she making a difference with this rewarding project.

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