Retired Air Force Lt. Col. sews quilts for fellow vets

Posted 11/6/19

After a fulfilling career in the military that afforded her opportunities she can’t imagine she would have had otherwise, Nancy McDaniel now devotes her time to expressing herself creatively and showing her support for those who have followed her in joining the service.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. sews quilts for fellow vets

Posted

After a fulfilling career in the military that afforded her opportunities she can’t imagine she would have had otherwise, Nancy McDaniel now devotes her time to expressing herself creatively and showing her support for those who have followed her in joining the service.

Like Bilbo Baggins, who went “There And Back Again,” McDaniel has returned to her roots, as a Chimacum High School graduate who now lives on her family’s property on Van Trojan Road, which is named after her great-grandfather.

“It was in my second year at the University of Puget Sound that my boyfriend persuaded me to join ROTC,” McDaniel said. “Of course, as soon as I joined, he dumped me,” she laughed.

McDaniel nonetheless realized that the Air Force life suited her, becoming a hospital administrator in the medical service corps, which led to further educational and career opportunities.

“They said, ‘How’d you like to get your master’s degree?’” said McDaniel, who attended Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. “I had to buy my own books, but they paid for everything else.”

McDaniel was fascinated by the scientific work she got to oversee, including combat medical care, laser eye protection, sleep studies on pilots and centrifuge tests on everyone from humans to livestock.

“Every day, the conversations about what we were working on changed,” McDaniel said. “I found challenges in the military that I wouldn’t have found in civilian life.”

Along the way, as her assignments took her to Europe and the Far East, McDaniel met fellow Air Force officer Glenn Davis in 1977, and was so impressed by him that she married him in 1979.

“I was a young lieutenant, and he was a handsome fighter pilot,” McDaniel said. “It’s been 40 years, so I think it’s going to last,” she laughed.

While her husband put in 26 years in the Air Force, McDaniel put in 22. Both made the rank of colonel, and on her 21st year in, McDaniel learned her name had been submitted for advancement to commander.

“And I made it,” McDaniel said. “All we had to do was move to Boston.”

By this point, McDaniel was caring for horses at her San Antonio home, and was ready to stay put for a change, so she retired the next year, in 1997, and was able to get a five-year government contractor job in the very same facility where she’d worked in uniform.

As a civilian, McDaniel has her hands active with arts and crafts, a pursuit she picked up near the end of her time in the service.

This handiwork led her to take up quilting, which in turn introduced her to the Jefferson County chapter of the national Quilts of Valor organization, after she and her husband had moved to her family’s land.

“I remember wandering into a meeting of the Cabin Fever Quilters, with these women who’d been quilting for 20 years, and I was like, ‘I’ve been doing this for eight hours,’” said McDaniel, who estimates she’s made between 15-20 quilts for Quilts of Valor over the past half-dozen years.

“Because I served, I feel a bond with other military members. It doesn’t matter what branch they are, unless they’re going up against the Air Force in football,” she laughed, before turning serious, “because we all have the same background experiences.”

McDaniel expressed her appreciation to her fellow quilters and crafters for being so supportive, and has found craft shows to be a fun source of some side money.

“I’m kind of getting away from doing jewelry lately, because it seems like everyone is getting into it,” McDaniel said. “I can do embroidery in front of the TV, watching the Seahawks, as long as I pay attention to my work and not the TV screen.”

While McDaniel usually manages to pitch her wares at five regional arts and crafts shows per year, she had to skip a show this year, because she spent a whole month hiking in Spain.

“I love the Port Townsend Arts and Crafts Fair,” McDaniel said. “I made $857 at the Jamestown S’Klallam Native and Non-Native Art and Craft Fair this past weekend, and I can clear between $2,300 to $3,000 in a weekend at the gift fair in Bremerton. As for the Chimacum Arts and Crafts Fair, that’s the granddaddy of them all.”

While McDaniel loves keeping her hands busy, she divides her year neatly between quilting and crafting, “so I don’t smudge the quilts when my hands are covered in paint.”

And because she retained an interest in military operations, McDaniel self-published “A Sound Defense: Military Sites, Lighthouses and Memorials of Puget Sound” in 2013, covering 12 counties through a decade of research.

“I wasn’t working on it every day,” McDaniel said. “Finally, my husband said, ‘Either finish it or throw it out!’ So I gave it to an editor, and handed them a box of red pens.”

The end result ran through a first printing of 1,100 copies and a second printing of 300 copies, and is available through the Jefferson Museum of Art and History.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment