'I still don't want to quit'

June Prentice of Mendota usually gives quilts to her family and friends, or enters them into a fair. But this quilt is either on her bed, couch, or waiting in a tote for the Christmas quilt to retire from the holiday season. (Reporter photo by Brandon LaChance)

J. Prentice has been quilting since 1976, and doesn't plan to stop


Staff writer

MENDOTA – June Prentice has lived in Mendota, Compton, Paw Paw, and other local communities during her entire 81 years.

She attended the original Blackstone School and Mendota High School buildings and watched the building of the ones that are used today.

Through this time, through the years, Prentice has seen a lot of changes. But for her, she had one normal, one constant she always relied on: quilting.

“My dad’s mother, Grandma Wilhelmina “Mini” Zimmerman, I don’t know how she learned how to quilt, but she was a very good quilter and she taught her daughters,” said Prentice, who graduated from MHS in 1959. “My mother (Rose Zimmerman) learned from her. In the 1970s, there used to be home quilt parties, like a Tupperware party, and you bought blocks of cloth and you painted them. I made my first quilt in 1976. My blocks were about 1776 because it was for the United States Bicentennial.

“I didn’t learn how to quilt from my grandmother because she died when I was in the eighth grade. I got started through my mother. Another lady (Sandy Barsky) and I started a quilt guild. I thought I knew a lot about quilting, ha, boy did I learn a lot more once I joined the guild and got together with a bunch of ladies who could quilt.”

The Nine Patch Quilt Guild, started in 1988 by Prentice and Barsky, is still going strong today.

What started as a group of four women at the first meeting, now has 28 quilters who show up at the Dickinson House in Oglesby the second Tuesday of every month.

The guild gave Prentice a place to learn different techniques and now she is able to share her experiences and skills with others.

“I used to quilt a queen quilt in 4-5 weeks. That’s just hand quilting it, that’s not piecing it together or anything,” said Prentice, who used to buy every quilt book that was published to find new designs and new types of quilts. “I’m not that speedy anymore and I have other things I want to do.

“I give most of my quilts away, but I said, ‘My bedroom is in blue, I love this one, and I’m keeping this one.’ Now, it’s usually on my bed. At Christmas time, I switch the quilt on my bed to a Christmas quilt. While I’m finishing a quilt, I’m already thinking of ideas for the next quilt. My mother (Rose Zimmerman) used to ask, ‘Well, which one are you going to put up next?’ I would always answer, ‘I got about four or five I could come up with.’”

Since 1976, Prentice estimates she has made more than 500 quilts.

The quilter has photo books with a photo and a description of her first 330 quilts she has made for people or submitted to Mendota’s Tri-County Fair or to the Sandwich Fair.

However, once her camera broke and she purchased a replacement, the quilt documentation stopped.

“I made quilts for all four of my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and now I’m working on my great-great-grandchildren,” Prentice said. “I already have a yellow quilt picked out and started for my newest great-great grandchild. There is one little guy that doesn’t have his yet, but he’ll get it, I’m just piecing it together.

“It was just a bug and it bit me. I just had to keep doing another one after I finished a quilt. I had an idea already ready to go and I wanted to try it for the next quilt. You can call it an obsession, but you get started and you come up with different ideas.

“Once I got started, I didn’t want to quit quilting. I still don’t want to quit.”

With 47 years of quilting comes memories.

Prentice has formed memories tied to each of her family members including her children, their children, her husband James Prentice, who passed away from lung cancer in 2005, her mother Rosemary, and her grandmother Mini.

“My mother and I both used to enter quilts in the Mendota Tri-County Fair,” Prentice said. “It was fun to compete against my mother. It was interesting. Sometimes I would get a blue ribbon and sometimes she won the blue ribbon.”

Now, Prentice is hoping the traditions will pass on.

Building memories of your loved ones, being excited about new ideas, and creating bonds through quilting whether those bonds are with a school, a fair, or a loved one.

“I feel like it’s a family tradition. When I made my first quilt, I thought, ‘I’m going to do a quilt just to carry it on for one more generation.’ I was hoping either my daughters or my granddaughters or someone would pick it up,” Prentice said. “It hasn’t happened yet, and I have a feeling that it’s not going to be passed on because everyone is so busy with their jobs and everything they do.

“They also have small kids. When I started quilting, my twin boys (Brad, passed away in 2021 and Tim) were 15, I had a 13-year-old daughter (Kim) and 9-year-old daughter (Kelly). I began in my early 40s.

“I’m 81, so I want to get everyone a quilt before I leave this world. Hopefully, I get to show someone else how to quilt.”

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