Taking the tour

Some came for the gardens while others were there for the quilts at the third annual Tracy Area Gardens and Quilts Tour

Renee Gauer, left, Pat Elston, Pat Lenz, Sue Curley and Juane Elston look over the flower gardens and quilts that were on display at Cookie and Joe Cooreman's home in Balaton during the 2017 Tracy Area Gardens and Quilts tour recently.


It was a beautiful day to be inspired by the talented community members of Balaton during the third annual Tracy Area Gardens and Quilts Tour recently.

As part of a fundraising effort for Tracy Kiwanis and St. Mary’s CCW, the tour featured the garden sites at six Balaton homes.

“Gardening is becoming a lost art,” tour committee member Lynn Verlinde said. “It takes a lot of time and most people work outside of the home now. Most gardens are vegetable gardens. It’s a different generation.”

About 100 quilts were also showcased throughout the six sites and at the Balaton Area History Center.

“It was a lot of work, going around ahead of time to see where the quilts looked the best with the colors of the gardens,” Verlinde said. “That’s pretty much what we tried to do — match the colors or the atmosphere.”

The weather even cooperated for the afternoon and early evening event.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better day,” committee member Kathy Van Moer said.

Led by organizer Elise Lanoue, the annual event invited people to the homes of Cookie and Joe Cooreman, Mary and Fran Timmerman, Julie and Greg Erickson, Ruth and Dave Lehnhoff, Marcella and Don Beatty and Sue and Larry Mitzner.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful,” Mary Timmerman said of the event. “It’s especially wonderful to be a part of it. It’s pretty neat.”

Timmerman admits that she’s not a quilter or a real good gardener, but she’s fortunate to live next door to an avid gardener.

“Cookie and I are neighbors and if Cookie sees black dirt, there’s going to be flowers,” said Timmerman, who lives in Grandview Beach Acres, which is a development area the Timmermans started along Lake Yankton. “She got me started. Every year, we just add a little something.”

The Timmermans moved off the farm and into their lake home three years ago, but the Cooremans have been there for nearly 10 years.

“The gardens are pretty new though,” Cookie Cooreman said. “We had this lot and then the next lot over, somebody else bought it and didn’t want it, so we bought it. Now we have all this land. I brought all the flowers from the farm (near Tracy). That’s how we started.”

Cooreman has a handful of gardens — ones that include gnomes, bicycles and cut-outs of birds — and all of them are colorful and well-kept.

“I like gardening,” she said. “I told people years ago, my therapy in the winter is choir. I was a choir director for 17 years. In the summer, it’s flower gardening.”

A pastel-colored quilt pieced and machine-quilted by Pat Rutz was hung in the Cooreman’s bicycle garden. A note attached said Rutz made the quilt for her 4-year-old granddaughter, Natalie, who loves pink and purple.

“The three bikes belong to our three girls,” Cooreman said. “We’ve got the tricycle, the medium one and the big one. I think it’s beautiful.”

A lot of the décor in the gardens are meaningful to Cooreman.

“There’s a bench I received when I retired from the hospital (Sanford Tracy),” she said. “I have a pelican from Dwayne DeSmet, who makes the metal works, and there are wood ducks cut out of metal and painted. John Carlson, who was our neighbor when he was little, he did all the painting and everything. Those things are very special to us.”

Lois Ahlschlager’s unique yo-yo quilt — made by connecting 4,000 fabric yo-yo pieces together — was also on display.

“It’s really something special,” Cooreman said. “Each one of these tiny little things has been pulled in and stitched on — can you imagine? And every square in here is different. It’s absolutely amazing. I just admire these people who do this stuff.”

Ahlschlager’s “Vintage Cars” quilt was also highlighted. A note revealed that the license plates and cars used in the quilt were ones actually in her husband’s possession.

“Lois is an artist to say the least,” Cooreman said. “She must have 15 quilts here and they took six of them over to Erickson’s. She’s prolific.”

Some of the quilts were obviously lovingly made for joyous occasions — birthdays, holidays, baby showers, weddings, confirmations and other events. A Pokemon quilt on display was made by Rutz for her grandson, Isaac, for his 7th birthday.

“It’s cool to see the ones that have a story,” Verlinde said. “This tour is also neat because you get to meet the quilters and the designers — some you didn’t even know did this.”

Verlinde, who made her first quilt in high school, only had one quilt on display this year since the Balaton area had plenty. She admits that quilting is in her blood and she’s even passed the hobby on to others, including her friend, Jolynn Johns.

“Quilting is a passion,” she said. “It’s my passion. I didn’t realize we had that many quilters here in Balaton. We have about 100 quilts. We’re just thrilled.”

Verlinde acknowledged that quilts were sometimes made for somber times.

“You have people who have cancer,” Verlinde said. “My daughter’s mother-in-law was sick, and we lost her this February. Those types of things draw me to make the quilts. She needed something comforting. She was going through chemo. It didn’t have to be very large — just something to keep her warm.”

Verlinde knew the woman was a very religious person and that she had ovarian cancer, so she picked out colors and Scriptures accordingly.

“The quilt just meant the world to her,” Verlinde said. “It broke my heart because she wanted to be buried with it.”

Timmerman’s granddaughter also created something special for someone — her grandmother, Rosemary Kuether.

“She did a fairy garden in remembrance of Grandma Rosie,” Timmerman said.

Ruth Lehnhoff designed an entire garden in honor of loved ones.

“It’s my memorial garden,” she said. “Our son (Kyle Lehnhoff, who died on Dec. 19, 2012, at the age of 35) had certain flowers that he really liked, so they’re planted in there. Their wedding flowers are in there, along with angels and plaques we’ve received when family members have passed away.”

The memory garden also includes her dad’s cream separator and a stone that her brother, Gary, made for her.

“Gary passed away this last year,” Lehnhoff said. “When I do dishes, I can look at the garden. It’s just my thing.”

Lehnhoff, who estimates she spends at least 10 hours a week gardening, said she also throws in red, white and blue accents whenever possible.

“I was born on the Fourth of July,” she said.

Lehnhoff’s sister-in-law, Laureen Thooft, provided the quilts that were displayed there.

“We’ve had a big turnout,” Lehnhoff said of the tour. “You can tell those that are really into quilting — that’s their thing — because they’re looking at the backs and the fronts. Then you have those who are looking down into the flowers, wondering what kind of flower that it. It’s fun.”

Pam Thooft, Patti Welvaert, Kathy Staniszewski and Lorraine Meulebroeck walked around outdoors together, admiring the gardens and quilts.

“Laureen is my sister-in-law and we used to quilt together,” Pam Thooft said. “She’s a great teacher.”

Becky Avrill said the tour came together when the two Tracy organization were searching for fundraising ideas.

“The church women were looking for a fundraiser and have been talking about it for awhile and Jesse (James) and I were trying to find a fundraiser for Kiwanis,” Avrill said. “It’s kind of fun how it started. The first year, we were northeast. Then we went south to the lakes (Lake Shetek area) and then to Balaton. It’ll be in Tracy next year.”

The $15 cost for the Gardens and Quilts tour included pie and ice cream. There was also a raffle, with $2 tickets being sold.

“People who do quilting obviously have a love for it,” Avrill said as she looked at one of the donated quilts. “You can’t put a value on a quilt.”

Designer Debbie Bowles from Minneapolis donated a quilt for the raffle, as did Bev Holland and Lynn Holland Larson.

“There’s a lot of love and sweat that goes into a quilt,” Verlinde said. “Last year, I was so fortunate to have my sister-in-law donate one. She graduated from Tracy, so I asked if she wanted to give something back to her community. She didn’t have any children and she has lots of quilts. She said she didn’t know which one she’d part with at first, but that she’d figure it out.”

Verlinde estimated that one of her quilts took about half a year to finish.

“It drives my husband crazy when I start a new one,” she said. “There are challenging quilts and there are easy quilts. I depends on how intricate the design is. We had a number of applique — not pieced — quilts here. Not very many people do that anymore.”

An avocado green applique quilt with pink trim caught Verlinde’s eye.

“It’s from Ann Carrow’s collection,” Verlinde said. “It’s so different. It’s hand-stitched — 10 stitches per inch is awesome hand-quilting.”

Aprons from Carrow’s collection were also on display at the late Stella Tisue house during the tour. Since the aprons and quilts mean a lot to ones who made or collected them, tour organizers knew they needed to take extra care when hanging them.

“We had great help from the gardeners,” Verlinde said. “Sue Mitzner hung all her own quilts. (The committee members) all went around to the gardens together two weeks ago. We had these quilts to try and figure out where they should go. We noted it all down — where we need extra clips, extra magnets, whatever. Elise has done so much work, especially the last three days.”

On the day of the tour, committee members split into teams to get all the work finished in time for the big event.

“Every quilt is hanging because they thought that was the spot for it,” Cooreman said. “This is a very, very organized thing.”