Fabric of friendship bonds retiree, military
Hometown: Lake Geneva
Family: Seven children, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, two of which are on the way
Other volunteer work: In addition to making quilts for servicemen and women overseas, she sews quilts for the needy through her church. She also serves as chairwoman of the Wall of Success at Badger High School and organizes the all-school reunion at Badger High School every five years.
"Getting out and helping other people, you learn so much about your own community..." she said.
Honors: She was named "Unit Member of the Year" by the Wisconsin American Legion Auxiliary in 2008, and following the award, the city proclaimed Sept. 10 "Barbara Braden Day" in recognition of her "selfless devotion to the community."
Motto: "In God I trust."
A Lake Geneva woman just can't say no to helping our soldiers. Kyle Geissler reports. Barbara Braden is featured as one of the Janesville Gazette's "People Who Matter".
LAKE GENEVA Barbara Braden couldn't imagine saying "no" to a soldier.
That's why, under her leadership, the Lake Geneva unit of the American Legion Auxiliary has sewed about 500 quilts for local servicemen and women serving overseas since it began the effort a year and a half ago.
"Her feeling is that the soldiers are doing us a favor, and whatever we can do to make life easier for them is our way of just giving a little bit back," said Grace Patyk of Lake Geneva, whose son, Army Staff Sgt. Robert W. Patyk, received the very first batch of quilts that the women made. "That's her feeling more than anything."
Braden learned of an Army mother's quilt-making efforts while attending the state American Legion convention in summer 2007. Linda Wieck of Plymouth had made a camouflage quilt for her son-in-law, and when other soldiers saw it, they wanted quilts of their own. She turned to organizations such as the American Legion for help.
"I thought, 'This sounds like something we could do,'" Braden said of the project.
She quickly set to work soliciting donations to cover the cost of materials and shipping and rounding up dozens of volunteers to iron, pin and sew quilts.
The Lake Geneva unit was the first American Legion Auxiliary in the nation to undertake this project, which to date has produced about 500 quilts for local soldiers and their comrades serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"How do you say no? How do you say no to a soldier?" Braden said. "I couldn't anyway."
Braden often receives letters, postcards and photographs from soldiers who have received quilts, and she keeps them, along with newspaper clippings, newsletters and other mementos, in what has become an overstuffed scrapbook of her time as an auxiliary member.
"As long as (the soldiers) are pleased, I don't have to be thanked," Braden said. "But it's not just me. I can organize, but it's all the people who help that makes everything a success."
She makes it a point to share every note with those who have contributed to the quilt project by putting them in the newspaper.
Joyce Bouhl, past president of the auxiliary, said the project has grown exponentially since the unit made its first batch of quilts because Braden has made it a community effort.
"It's just been going on and on and on," she said.
Patyk said the project is just one way Braden has given back to her community.
"She's such a giving, giving person," she said. "When she finds out something that can benefit not only the (auxiliary) but also benefit other people, she will go so headstrong into it and give 200 percent of herself."
Braden said she dedicates herself to work like the quilt project because there's simply no other option.
"It's just the need I see," she said. "There are things that have to be done."