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Jane Reis of Prescott has been sharing her fondness for quilting with people at the Ellsworth Public Library. Even as Reis has brought this warmth to others, she warmed up herself with a cup of coffee last week. (Herald photo by Bill Kirk)

Quilter, reader, singer, Reis busy in retirement

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Pierce County Herald
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Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

In the midst of a colder-than-normal winter, Jane Reis finds herself bringing warmth to others.

The retired teacher’s latest activity is sharing a fondness for quilting with people attending her presentations at the Ellsworth Public Library. Longer than that, she’s sang songs of the Easter season with the Pierce County Ecumenical Choir, and helped teachers and students as they handle their respective reading assignments.

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“I’d always been interested in different kinds of crafts,” Reis said Friday about getting started in quilting.

She took on her first project in the late 1970s, having a sewing machine by then, she said. It wasn’t a full-fledged quilt, but similar enough to help her learn how to quilt. That led to a couple of bed quilts and wall hangings.

Reis explained lap quilting involves piecing several squares together, often using sandwich batting. Another approach has the entire top pieced and, for this type of quilting, she usually borrows a long-arm quilt machine owned by a friend, Diane Lecheler of Plum City.

“I’ve been a member of the Plum Creek Quilters since the 1980s,” Reis said, estimating the organization has 22-to-23 members.

They meet monthly to discuss projects they’ll do, she said, including what’s called “comfort quilts,” donated to people experiencing trying times, illnesses and the like. Mary Wieser of Plum City frequently invites the members to her home, where they usually work on their individual projects.

Reis said she had three projects underway last week; her efforts aren’t always typical quilts, but can be table runners, for example. The largest regular quilt she’s ever made was the size for a double bed. She tends to gravitate toward Civil War reproduction fabrics, fascinated with history. Quilts from early times served an important purpose in telling it.

“Usually, men write history,” she said. “Women weren’t encouraged to learn to write, so there were diaries to get their perspectives, but also quilts.”

Many of these depicted important occasions—births, deaths and weddings, for instance, she said. She finds the fabrics she needs by going on “shop hops,” to River Falls, Hudson and Plum City (where her friend Lecheler operates Designs by Diane) in this area and to more distant destinations. Some quilt shops organize these trips jointly, sending a bus to pick up members of groups and scheduling hour-long stops for them to browse and buy.

One of the activities in which she’s participated is the “Mystery Quilt” at the Ellsworth library, according to Reis. Participants are given common clues at certain intervals, then when they bring in their finished products the fun comes in seeing how each other’s quilt turned out.

“I’m doing one right now…we’re on step four,” she said.

It was the library which hosted her first public presentation on quilting a couple of years ago, the quilter said. Julie Belz, Children’s Librarian/Programming Coordinator, had organized kids’ projects. Among them was a doll-making effort and a related story incorporated quilt-making.

“I came in and talked about the pioneers and their quilts,” Reis said, adding more recently she spoke again to a gathering of ladies at the library, taking the same information and expanding on it. “I passed along bits and pieces…I’m not an expert.”

But the Big River area native is a former teacher. She grew up on a small dairy farm, one of nine children, she said. She enjoyed reading while at St. Mary’s School; she graduated from Prescott High School. When it was time to decide a future direction, she was uncertain, but two of her siblings—brother Dan and sister Angela—became teachers.

“It seemed like a good option,” she said.

Reis attended college in River Falls, studying elementary education, she said. The four-year program ended with a practice teaching component, which for her was at Prairie View Elementary School. She helped then-fifth grade teacher Doris Gerdes.

Her first regular teaching job was at the former Lindgren Elementary School, she said, in a classroom of third graders and they were at the level for students she’d teach most of her career. In the fall of 1971, she began with a group of 28 young charges, averaged 20-25 most years and retired approximately seven years ago with 10-to-11.

“At third grade, they learned cursive writing and were introduced to multiplication,” she said.

Today, the Prescott resident (her mother, Virginia Reis, also lives there) has a second sewing machine, she said. At St. Francis church in Ellsworth, she quilts items to be raffled off and headed for people in need, for which a lot of people donate fabrics.

She volunteers at Prairie View weekly, assisting by compiling the materials used in lessons and sometimes working with small groups of children.

“Several parents have asked me to tutor their children in reading,” she said.

Besides singing in the St. Francis church choir, she’s a member of the Pierce County Ecumenical Choir, Reis said. The 25-to-30-member group performs six-to-eight concerts at churches as far away as Roberts and Somerset, presenting an Easter story theme. Under the direction of Ann Turner of Spring Valley, they rehearse most every Sunday afternoon from early January until Palm Sunday.

Reis said she likes to sing, but doesn’t read music.

“I have to hear it, then sing it over and over to get it,” she said.

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Bill Kirk
Bill Kirk has been editor at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, Wisconsin, since 1988. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.
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