Last updated: June 05. 2014 10:42PM - 773 Views
By Rosanne Bowman

Janet and A.J. Theuer hold a finished quilt at home in Elida.
Janet and A.J. Theuer hold a finished quilt at home in Elida.
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LIMA — Janet Theuer has spent most of her life working with, or advocating for, special needs children, so it is really no surprise that after retiring she found another way to help out.

This time, Janet Theuer took a lifetime passion for sewing which she learned from her grandmothers and decided to make a difference by starting Chelsea’s Heart, whose mission statement is, “To support families of infants 0 to 3 months of age born prematurely or with a diagnosed disability.” She and her husband A.J. Theuer, whom she married in 2012 after her first husband died of cancer, do this by providing a handmade quilt or blanket to parents with a child that is premature or has a diagnosed disability.

“We want parents to know that they are not on this journey alone,” said Janet Theuer. “There are others on this journey with them.”

Janet Theuer decided to start making the quilts because of her own experiences working with special needs children for 40 years, having two adopted sons with special needs and also having a stillborn sister. The name for the ministry came from her second husband’s daughter, Chelsea M’Lynn Theuer, who was also stillborn in 1990.

“We never want Chelsea to be forgotten,” added Janet Theuer. “Chelsea’s Heart is a way to remember her.”

They donate the quilts and blankets to Help Me Grow of Allen County to distribute to families. Barb Blass, Early Childhood Coordinator with Help Me Grow of Allen County, has known Janet Theuer for over 15 years. She said that Chelsea’s Heart is a wonderful program. “It’s something different,” she said. “It’s personal, not something that is bought with funding.”

Blass went on to say that the response from families has been overwhelmingly positive and many find the quilts and blankets comforting.

“Janet and her husband have also offered, if a family is really struggling with a diagnosis, to talk with them,” said Blass. “That is just as important as a handmade gift.”

Since beginning in February, Janet Theuer has designed, sewn and donated 29 quilts, and she has 14 more ready to go. While Theuer makes about 10 to 15 quilts a month, her sister, Mickey Smith, a retired teacher, has crocheted about 30 afghans. Theuer’s niece, Charlene Anderson, has also donated five afghans.

Theuer chose Help Me Grow of Allen County because of her own work experiences. “Early intervention is so important,” she said. “Help Me Grow helps parents connect to the services they need. They do important work which is why we decided to give the quilts and blankets to them to distribute.”

The quilts, which are 32 by 36 inches in size, are hand knotted. “I do the knots on each square because one of our first senses is touch,” Janet Theuer said. “The babies can feel the knots.”

Al Theuer, who retired from from CSX Railroad in March and also spent 26 years as a senior chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy, helps his wife in a variety of ways, although he does not do any sewing. “I used to do some sewing in the Navy,” he said, “but Janet is very particular about her sewing.”

Besides winding all of Janet Theuer’s bobbins, he also takes pins out and lines up all the materials when she is ready to put the batting into the quilt. Plus, he made several templates to make her job easier.

“I had 5 inch by 3 inch squares and a 2.5 by 14 inch rectangle made out of scrap aluminum,” said AJ Theuer. “This way, she has a template when she cuts out the fabric. I put cork on the back so it doesn’t slip out of place.”

He also sometimes uses the templates himself to cut the squares for her. His big contribution, though, is buying fabric. The couple travels quite a bit, and A.J. Theuer stops wherever they go to pick up more fabric.

Janet Theuer said one of the only challenging things about what she does is keeping her husband from buying more fabric. “No matter where we go, A.J. buys fabric,” she said.

In her sewing room, Janet Theuer has stacks of boxes that are filled with quilt squares in every color of the rainbow. “I pick out a backing that is either for a girl or a boy,” she explained. “Then I pull out my colors and see what will work with that pattern.”

The couple both feel incredibly blessed and that is the main reason they started this project.

“It’s hard to believe I was diagnosed with prostate cancer 10 years ago,” A.J. Theuer said. “I’m still healthy enough, though, to travel and help out. Even with cancer, I’m incredibly blessed. The Bible tells us that to whom much is given, much is required.”

Janet Theuer agreed. “I have been so blessed,” she said. “This is my way of giving back.”

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