For the last 19 years Judy Carothers, 81, of Payette, Idaho, has made lap blankets for first responders — both domestic and military — reaching around the world and now including …
For the last 19 years Judy Carothers, 81, of Payette, Idaho, has made lap blankets for first responders — both domestic and military — reaching around the world and now including Owensville, Missouri.
Carothers received a request to make a blanket for widow Edna Schlottach in honor of her husband Rodger Schlottach, who died of complications due to exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam.
“What I do now is very different than when it started after 9/11,” Carothers said. “What used to be lots of people involved is now one.”
Carothers said she started making blankets after the 911 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. She once had over 200 volunteers, but that number dwindled to one as the years went on. She has made over 6,000 blankets.
“If they are bedridden, it will cover them,” Carothers said. “Actually what we did first right after 9/11, those blankets were going to active duty personnel and were on the request from family and friends.”
The design at that time was designated by the government, and Carothers had plenty of donations from material to money.
“As that dried out, it became more difficult to mail the blankets,” she said. “Then it switched. For a time we sent blankets to the veterans’ hospital near Oregon for the (soldiers) coming back, amputees and such,” Carothers said. “That became too expensive, so we started to target those closer to home.”
Law enforcement officials and veterans in four or five cities near Idaho became her main focus
“I have made World War I blankets, memorial blankets, Vietnam blankets — it doesn’t matter, just as long as they were honorably discharged.”
Carothers said the government no longer mandates what the blankets must look like, so she does a lot of research to make special patches for the blankets that say where the individual served. At chest level, she sews a patch in the shape of a heart with the service person’s name and dates of service or birth and death if it is a memorial blanket.
“It all depends if I can get the information or not; I am not good on the computer,” Carothers said. “I will try to have an appropriate picture on the patch. I try to surprise as many of these guys as I can.”
The blankets are normally requested by family members and her name is known largely by word-of-mouth.
“If a family requests a blanket and the serviceman doesn’t think he deserves it a blanket, it makes it hard,” Carothers said. “I just did one last week that the marine was picked for special missions. The family doesn’t know hardly anything that he has done. He said ‘I am not talking to you about this’ and I said ‘that’s not what this is about.’”
Carothers said it is not about what the servicemembers saw or what they did. It’s about thanking them for their time in the service.
“He did give me some basic information and I was able to find the patch for the army branch he was in and included the picture of the two purple hearts, but nothing about where he served in Vietnam,” she said.
While some will tell her about the places they were stationed, she has noticed it depends on what they were doing and what they saw. Some people she makes a blanket for have never been thanked for their service.
“I had a guy I gave a blanket to that he destroyed everything before he got home — metals patches, uniforms — because he was afraid his family would be harassed,” she said.
Usually, when someone wants a blanket, they reach out because they heard someone had requested a blanket for someone else.
“If someone wants a blanket, say they are from Missouri, we ask help for the freight costs,” Carothers said.
Carothers’ brother was living in the St. James Veteran’s home several years ago when he read about Owensville man Major Thomas in a local free paper. Thomas was writing various memories of his time in the Korean War. Carothers’ brother sent her clippings of the paper and said he thought Thomas was worthy of a blanket.
She was able to get in touch with him and they began a friendship.
“We’ve been best friends ever since,” Carothers said. “He has sent me lots of books which I have passed on to other veterans. The way he wrote, not a polished writer, but like sitting across the kitchen table and listening to someone talk about their life, and sometimes he can be very colorful.”
Thomas was friends with Rodger Schlottach and his wife Edna when Rodger Schlottach became sick three years ago. After his passing, Edna Schlottach took his absence hard. Thomas requested that Carothers make a blanket for his friend’s wife in her hour of grief.
“You know that I loved Rodger the same if he was my brother,” Thomas wrote in a letter to Kenny Schlottach, Rodger Schlottach’s brother, to ask if Edna Schlottach would be willing to receive a gift in her husband’s memory. “I don’t want to open any wounds, especially for Edna.”
Thomas said a veteran holds a special place in his heart.
“I will never miss a handshake with a veteran or ask them ‘how is your life, health issues — we’ve had many conversations,” Thomas said.
According to Edna Schlottach, that’s what happened between Thomas and her husband.
“My husband and him just hit it off,” Edna Schlottach said. “Just like they were best friends forever.”
She said she visited Thomas and his lady weeks before and Thomas showed her his blanket.
“It was beautiful,” she said. “He told me that he would like to have one done for Rodger and wanted Rodger’s information from Vietnam and I took it up to him.”
Edna Schlottach said she read Thomas’ memoir.
“He wrote that book and I read it. He really wanted to do this for Rodger,” she said.
Edna and Rodger Schlottach previously lived in Springfield, but as they got older, he wanted to return home to Owensville to be closer to his brothers.
“We moved back up here and we lived here for seven years before he passed and we buried him at the home church of Charlotte,” Edna Schlottach said.
She describes her husband as patriotic and humble. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He loved his family and his church. Edna Schlottach said he and Thomas hit it off.
“They just became good friends and could talk about anything,” she said. “Major comes by every once in a while and I will go up and see him and Marge.”
While Rodger Schlottach was in counseling, he had his wife write down stories that had bothered him over the years. He served as a staff sergeant, and their granddaughter followed in his footsteps.
“He was 22-years-old when he served and they called him an old man,” she remembers.
After Rodger Schlottach was diagnosed, he went to treatments for four hours a week or every other week.
“He would be wiped out when we got home,” she said. “He fought to stay alive, but it didn’t work.”
She said they never talked about him dying.
“Right up until the end, and then they put him on hospice,” she said. “I told him ‘honey, it’s time to go see your daddy.’ He nodded and I said ‘I love you’ and he said ‘I love you too.’”
They were married for 32 years. Thomas said he hopes the blanket will help Edna work through her grief.
With the blanket in hand, Thomas and Marge went to the newly established Veteran’s Memorial Park on the corner of Fourth Street and Jefferson Street in Owensville, sandwiched between First State Community Bank and Buschmann Park. Edna Schlottach, her brother-in-law Charlie Schlottach, Paster Van Lahmeyer, and friends Mary Hackstedt and Tabitha Hurst were present during the blanket presentation.
“Edna, I am so excited for the presentation,” Thomas said. “This goal of mine is to do this in Rodger’s honor for his service to our country.”