SHERIDAN — If idle hands represent the devil’s work, then many might consider Rosa Ballard one of the holiest 76-year-old women in Sheridan. Ballard, who lives at Penrose Place assisted living home, makes quilts for the community, dresses for African children and once brain-tanned a hide for the bride in “Dances with Wolves.”
Ballard and her husband found ways to use almost the entire carcass of the animal through the brain-tanning process. Brain tanning uses the brain, hide and bones of the animal to cure, soften and thin out the hide to create a leather. The couple would sell out almost instantly after taking the hides to Wyoming Muzzleloaders conventions. The Ballards also taught a Native American man how to tan hides to provide for his family.
A lightly-smoked deer hide, processed by the Ballards and slightly tattooed by barbed wire in Douglas, was used to make the wedding dress for Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell) in “Dances With Wolves.”
Later, though, when her husband died and she contracted throat cancer, doctors instructed Ballard to slow down a bit.
“Rosa is a woman of God, she’s widowed four years and she hasn’t stopped giving,” said Anita Schamber, friend of Ballard and a commissioned minister for Volunteers of America.
Ballard no longer has the strength to brain tan a hide, so instead she works diligently throughout the day crafting quilts, dresses and baked goods for the community and family members.
She and four dedicated sewers and quilters participate in the nonprofit group, Love In Stitches, which has donated approximately 350 quilts to various organizations and individuals.
“For the good of others,” Ballard said. “That’s what Love In Stitches is all about.”
Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s pediatric department, Compass Center for Families, Volunteers of America’s Milestones Youth Home, Advocacy and Resource Center and the Sheridan Police Department have been recipients of the group’s creative work.
The leftover scraps of fabric are transformed into pet beds and given to the Dog at Cat Shelter in Sheridan. Ballard crafts additional fabric into dresses for the Little Dresses for Africa organization and the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.
Schamber visits with Ballard and her peers weekly simply to share stories with fellow friends. Schamber was amazed at how active Ballard and her group of like-minded community servants were despite physical setbacks.
“You gals are just not sitting still,” Schamber said. “You’re in life ‘refirement’ is my term. You’re using your energies as long as you have life and breath for the good of others.”
Ballard said her group used to put puzzles together, but making and giving away quilts proved more beneficial.
“When you’re done with a puzzle, you have to pick it up and put it back in the box,” Ballard said. “When you make a quilt, you go give it to someone and the thrilling part is (giving)…it’s better to give.”
Ballard inspires Schamber to remain active, but Schamber sees Ballard as a pinnacle of what seniors should aspire to be as they continue to age and endure trials like ailments and the deaths of loved ones.
“I’m a senior myself, but you’re an incentive for those that sit on their thumbs,” Schamber said.