Cuyuna woman has been giving away handmade crosses for several years
By Jennie Zeitler
Spry 80-year-old Eloise Bierman of Cuyuna long ago lost track of exactly how many plastic-canvas stitched crosses she has made and given away over the past decade or more. Or how many lives her work has touched and blessed.
“There are way more than 3,000 crosses,” she said. “I have no way of remembering.”
Eloise grew up in Brainerd. After raising her children and not being so busy with her snowmobile business, she was in her 50s when she started doing handwork. For many years, she crocheted blankets. Her efforts were made a bit easier by using the same pattern for each blanket. She did Swedish weaving for about 10 years or so. She estimates that she made about 75 blankets and table runners. When she decided she was done with that, she had so much yarn left over and looked for a way to use it.
“I’m one of those who doesn’t like to waste anything,” she said.
It was a new friend from Canada who introduced Eloise to the crosses. They make such an impact on the recipients that is not uncommon for them to cry.
“There are a lot of good stories, a lot of tears and hugs,” said Eloise. “People are just happy to have them.”
People know that Eloise can use yarn and often give her their extra yarn. She can’t recall the last time she had to buy much.
“Sometimes if Red Heart comes out with a new color, I’ll buy a skein. Once in a while I have to buy white,” she said.
To construct the crosses, Eloise makes two separate crosses and stitches them together. She adds at least one charm to each side, and a long hanger with a tag. She found a place in Texas where she can get the charms for a reasonable cost.
“Sometimes I’ll find some local. Once in a while, I find old jewelry at garage sales,” she said.
Many of the crosses make their way to American Legion posts. Eloise has a long history with the Legion. In the early 1960s, she was president of the American Legion Auxiliary -- at age 20. The bartender liked to point out that he couldn’t serve her. Eloise later managed the Legion in Ironton for 10 years.
After 33 years as a single woman, Eloise married her husband Roger, her cross distribution partner, and they live in Cuyuna. Roger keeps a box of crosses in his truck, to hand out as the need arises.
People sometimes call Eloise and ask to buy crosses, but she has to turn them down.
“I don’t sell them – I give them away,” she said. “When I started, I sold them one time at an American Legion craft show, but then started giving them.”
The crosses go to family and friends. They are tucked into sympathy cards. Any time a friend is getting ready to travel, Eloise sends crosses along for the trip.
She gives many crosses to Legion members she meets, for them to take back to their posts. These crosses are special red, white and blue designs, and a tag saying “God bless the veterans.”
“We like to stop at Legion clubs while we’re traveling,” she said.
The crosses she makes with children in mind have tags saying “God loves children.”
The tag on every cross has “Minnesota Cross Lady” on the back along with Eloise’s zip code 56444. That came about when someone remembered her as “the cross lady.”
Eloise has sent a cross to the Vatican. At the time that 14 young boys were trapped in a cave in Thailand, she sent crosses to them. Eloise has a tote filled with finished crosses just waiting to be given away.
Eloise doesn’t like to see crosses for sale at yard sales, so she buys them. She also buys rosaries. They are all part of the collection of crosses that are in every room in the Bierman home. People often give Eloise crosses. She also found a 128-year-old Bible at a garage sale for 50 cents. It’s a treasure she’s glad she rescued.
Her favorite cross came to her as the result of a trip a friend was taking.
“My most special cross is from a friend’s trip to the Caribbean island of Bonaire. She met a boy there and gave him one of my crosses. He wanted to give me a gift, so he made a cross out of driftwood and painted a design on it. He even put a hook on the back,” Eloise said.
Eloise knows her crosses have crossed the globe. They are in Canada and Mexico and about 40 more countries. She believes they are in at least 47-48 states.
Eloise and Roger used to spend winters in Florida, but they now have a place in Texas. That is where Eloise has met many of the people who have taken her crosses around the world. She prays for each person holding one of her crosses.
Sometimes the most meaningful gifts happen close to home.
“There’s a little gal in Deerwood who got a cross and she never forgets me,” Eloise said.
Eloise puts together about 20-25 crosses in a week. She can’t just sit and watch television; she has to do something.
As long as she can, she will be making and giving crosses to continue blessing people.
“I love to see people happy, with a smile on their face,” she said. When asking if someone would like a cross, “I’ve never been turned down.”