JOPLIN, Mo. —
JoAnn Scales has sewn for most of her life. From wedding to prom dresses, Scales knows the details about moving a needle through fabric. She’s made quilts for fundraisers and family reunions.
Though she knows the “how,” she doesn’t always know the “why.” But she wasn’t about to turn down heavenly instruction.
“When the Lord gives you something to do, you don’t have to know anything about it,” Scales said. “You just have to have a willing mind.”
Scales, a preacher, finished the last part of her instructions on Thursday. She presented a handmade quilt to City Manager Mark Rohr during Third Thursday in downtown Joplin.
The quilt features photographs of the May 2011 tornado’s aftermath, taken by Globe photographers. Surrounding the center picture, Gov. Jay Nixon at a memorial service for victims, the words “hope,” “love,” “joy” and “peace” are embroidered.
It was one of three quilts made for tornado-stricken towns by the United Methodist pastor -- she made similar quilts for people in Smithville, Miss., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. Making and taking the quilts to those two towns was easy for Scales, but the quilt for Joplin turned into a challenge.
Scales, 64, was working at Delta Industrial in 2001 when she broke her ankle. Shortly thereafter, her husband suffered a back injury requiring surgery. With both husband and wife out of work, the couple needed money for an upcoming family reunion.
She got to work stitching a quilt adorned with about 30 family pictures she had taken at another reunion. The quilt was raffled off at the reunion, and a hobby of making quilts with pictures was born. She made similar quilts for other people as far away as New York.
When tornadoes struck Smithville and Tuscaloosa, the impact was heavy. She wanted to help, but the scope of the damage was too much to bear, she said.
As the days went by, the guilt of not being able to help settled in. Because she hadn’t “picked up any sticks or given any water,” she asked the Lord what she could do.
Scales explains the answer, which she said was immediate: “‘Make a quilt,’ He said. I said that I could do that and send them. But he said, ‘No. You gotta take ’em.’”
Close to Tupelo, Miss., Fulton is nestled near the Alabama border in the northeastern part of the state. Smithville is about a half-hour drive away from Fulton; a drive to Tuscaloosa takes about two hours.
Working with folks in those two towns was easy, Scales said. A visit to The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal produced enough pictures for the Smithville quilt.
But Joplin is at least eight hours away. Getting pictures was a challenge. She called The Joplin Globe and eventually received pictures of the Globe’s tornado coverage from historian William Caldwell.