Sen. Murray to honor Islander who sends quilts to injured soldiers

Sen. Patty Murray will honor Vashon’s Sue Nebeker at Murray’s annual Golden Tennis Shoe award luncheon this Friday in Seattle.

Murray has bestowed the award for the past 15 years to recognize Washington citizens whose activism makes a difference in their communities and beyond, according to Jeff Bjornstad, the chief of staff for Murray’s office.

“Sue’s efforts touched Sen. Murray,” Bjornstad said.

Indeed, Nebeker’s work has touched many people. She is the founder and force behind American Hero Quilts, which has provided more than 7,000 quilts to wounded service men and women from Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho since the project began in 2007 with a community quilt-a-thon at the Methodist Church.

Nebeker and a host of volunteers create the quilts that pass from Nebeker’s basement studio to the beds of men and women injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each month Nebeker and others take roughly 100 quilts a to Madigan Army Medical Center. They have also sent 200 quilts to a hospital in Afghanistan and are making plans to send more — at the hospital’s request; they also send quilts to family members of personnel who commit suicide upon returning.

Nebeker was notified of her award by an aide to Murray, who called a few weeks ago.

“It was quite a shock,” she said. “My intention is to go there and accept it on behalf of the volunteers, because this isn’t about me.”

Roughly 1,000 people will be at the award luncheon, held at the Seattle convention center. It is a fundraising event for Murray, a Democrat, who faces a tough challenge from former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi. Attorney Vicki Kennedy, an advocate of many Democratic causes and the widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy, will provide the keynote address.

Nebeker has also been asked to speak. She plans on keeping her remarks short.

“I will acknowledge the volunteers who work so hard, ask people to keep our warriors in the hearts and minds and pray for peace,” she said.

As the quilts go out to the service men and women, stories come back to Nebeker.

One wife of a wounded soldier recounted recently how he does not recognize his mother but will not let go of the quilt that covers his hospital bed in their home.

Others call her on their own, and part of Nebeker’s work has become listening and talking to suicidal military men and women, struggling after they have returned home.

Nebeker hopes this award will register with people — and effect change.

“Maybe people will think beyond quilts,” she said.

Two other people are also slated for awards on Friday: Marcelas Owens, a Seattle 11 year-old who became an advocate for health care reform after his mother grew ill, lost her job and health insurance and died, and Kitara McClure, who founded a drop-in center for at-risk teens in Spokane.

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