Threads of Love


By Claire Riggan
For The Catholic Messenger

Rita Jenn of St. Joseph Parish in Hills was a devoted Catholic, wife, mother, grandmother and gifted quilter. On Aug. 11, 1948, Rita married her husband, Joe Jenn, at St. Mary Catholic Church in Riverside. Together they had 11 kids (two boys, nine girls), 32 grandchildren and 39 great-grandchildren.

Rita Jenn holds a quilt that was made for her prior to her death last month. Rita herself made many quilts for family members, friends, St. Mary Parish-Riverside auction and the community.

When she wasn’t busy raising her kids in their three-bedroom-one-bathroom house, she loved to watch them play sports. She also loved to garden. Rita was devoted to her church, diocese, community and, of course, her card club. Rita was a homemaker and a member of St. Joseph Parish where she served as a lector, eucharistic minister and parish council member. She also served as religious education coordinator for 20 years and on a diocesan council. She was a member of the Catholic Daughters.

Throughout her years, Rita made hundreds of quilts. She believed that her quilting talents were a gift from God; therefore, you can’t put a price tag on them. Those many quilts have been disbursed to family members, friends and members of the community. After her nine girls moved out of the house, Rita turned their dormitory-style bedroom into her quilting haven.


Rita had 26 storage containers filled with new colors of fabrics and materials, which she shared with other local quilters. With all of these fabric colors, she never created a quilt with the same design, style or pattern, including Hawkeye and Christmas quilts. Every year when Christmas came around, Rita had family members draw a number. Three lucky children received one of her prized quilts. She also donated many quilts to St. Mary’s parish auction in Riverside.

Last September, Rita was diagnosed with cancer but continued to be devoted to her family and faith. In October, her daughter Donna Arthur, also a member of St. Joseph Parish, saw a quilt that reminded her of her mother’s quilting talents and devotion to the faith. Donna and her sister, Mary Kay Hora, carefully picked out fabric colors that complimented their mother. Rita’s niece, Mary Marek of Kalona, offered to make this quilt in memory of Rita.

Once it was completed, and sensing that her mother might not make it to Christmas, Donna hung this quilt above Rita’s bed. On Dec. 11, Rita passed away in her home at Atrium Village in Hills, where she lived for the last nine years and had attended Mass daily at Atrium Village Chapel.

The quilt was displayed throughout the visitation for Rita.

This cross quilt represents the start of a new tradition; it will be passed to family members in the event of birth, wedding or death. This ensures we will keep Rita’s legacy alive. Rita’s family wanted to honor her and her talent by displaying a selection of quilts she has made.

Rita made an impact in her community; she raised a beautiful family and led quietly by example. She kept her family and community strong and remained devoted to her faith. She is an inspiration to many and will truly be missed.

(Claire Riggan is a great-granddaughter of Rita Jenn.)

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