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‘I really just like to stay busy’

Blomkest woman, 98, keeps making beautiful things

By Scott Thoma

“She has so much talent it’s scary,” said Judy Haukos about her 98-year-old mother, Evy Bendel of Blomkest, before jokingly adding, “I told her I want to be just like her when I grow up.”

It’s hard to look more than a few feet inside Bendel’s house before you come across something she has painted, baked, sewn, rosemaled, written, or some other way of making something ordinary into something beautiful.

“I really just like to stay busy,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t do as much as I used to do, but I still enjoy doing what I can.”

Evy Bendel, 98, shows two of the step stools with the rosemaling design she painted. Photo by Scott Thoma

Evy (short for Evelyn) grew up in Madison and attended country school for three years before graduating from Appleton High School in 1941. She married Urban Bendel in 1945 and they lived in Dawson for a while before eventually moving to Blomkest in 1974. Urban passed away in 1977 and Evy has been a widow ever since.

Evy utilizes her many talents into making gifts for her three daughters, seven grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

Many of Evy’s hobbies reflect her Norwegian heritage, including rosemaling that is showcased throughout the inside and outside of her home. Visitors are greeted with a large impressive rosemaling of a “Velkommen” (Norwegian for “Welcome”) sign she painted above the outside front door.

“I got up on a ladder and painted that years ago,” she said.

There is rosemaling that Evy painted in nearly every room of the house.

Rosemaling, Norwegian for “decorative painting,” is the name of a form of decorative folk art that originated in the rural valleys of Norway. Some art historians interpret “rose” as a reference to the rose lower, although the floral elements are often so stylized that no specific flower is identifiable and not used at all in some designs.

Another of Evy’s talents is her ability to make infant caps that she “looms” with yarn, and has donated them to Hope Pregnancy Center or a thrift store that sells them and gives a portion of the profits to non-profit organizations that help those in need.

Her loom is a five-inch circumference with pegs all around that she somehow twists, lifts, and pulls the yarn until it becomes an infant cap.

Evy’s daughter then takes out a large photo album and proudly shows all the decorative themed cakes her mother has baked over the years. A three-tiered 50th anniversary cake she baked for a relative several years ago would rival that of a professional baker.

Evy Bendel uses a small circular loom to make infant caps and donates them to various organizations. Photo by Scott Thoma

Judy heard someone attending the anniversary remark that the cake “is better than the one I had for my wedding.”

Among the cakes Evy has made are birthday-themed for grandchildren such as a school bus that even had photos of the child in the windows of the bus, a Big Mac, Snoopy and his doghouse, a train, racecars on track, and many more.

Evy estimates that she made over 300 quilts or quilt tops, baked and decorated hundreds of party cakes, loomed over 200 caps, and painted an endless number of rosemaling and other scenes over the last 70-plus years of her life.

“She has to be busy all the time,” her daughter said.

For her 90th birthday, family members each brought a gift that Evy had made for them over the years and had them all to show their appreciation.

When Evy saw all her talents on display, she remarked “I didn’t do all those, did I?”

Evy also writes poetry and has had a couple of her poems printed in the Senior Perspective, as well as a few of her recipes. Her memory is still sharp as evidenced by reciting some of her poems without missing a beat.

What is impressive is that she is “self-taught” in most of these hobbies.

“I did take a class in country painting in 1975,” she said. “And I did take lessons in rosemaling in 1972, but everything else I just taught myself.”

Evy will paint on just about any inanimate object that looks as though it needs a little cheering up such as step stools, trays, bottles, chests, walls, rocks, and more.

Evy Bendel showcases the pride she has in her Norwegian heritage outside her home in Blomkest. She painted this rosemaling, meaning “Welcome” years ago

She once painted a Christmas scene on a post office box that sat outside the Blomkest Post Office so it could be used as a drop-off for children’s Santa letters.

Besides a lot of rosemaling in her home, Evy paints a lot of butterflies because when its wings are open, she feels the insect forms the initials of her name.

So, in some of her paintings, she includes a small outline of a butterfly in the lower right corner as her trademark. The left wing looks like an “E” for Evelyn (Evy), the antenna a “V” for her middle name Violet, and the right wing a “B” for her last name, Bendel.

The most impressive thing about Evy is she is able to showcase all these talents despite being legally blind for several years.

“I don’t have any peripheral vision,” she said. “I can only see straight ahead in little circles.”

Her daughter explained that her mother’s vision is like “looking through small binoculars.”

The details in her work would surprise anyone to know her vision is limited.

“She painted a rock that looked so much like a cat that the dog barked at it,” said her daughter.

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