Robert Blackburn may not be the world’s best knitter, but under the tutelage of Anne Shapira, the minister is certainly improving on a skill he first began learning only four months ago.
“Oh, look at you, Robert! Oh, look at you! That’s wonderful, Robert!” Shapira, 97, exclaimed on a recent Monday night at The Glenview while watching Blackburn, 56, work on a brown scarf in the library of the tall residence off Brownsboro Road.
Six years ago, Shapira, a home economics major, decided to invite her fellow residents to a weekly knitting session and put up a sign that simply read, “ ‘Come knit, needlepoint or just gossip Monday night. 7:15.’ And we’ve done this since,” she said.
The “Klicking Knitters” – as Shapira calls them – began as a group of women ranging in age from early 70s to late 90s, though Blackburn’s arrival has skewed the average age. He is now “the baby,” Shapira chuckled, “and we just love having him here.”
Each week, the group gathers in one location in The Glenview to gab and knit garments for the needy: helmet warmers for soldiers, tiny caps for baby patients at Kosair Children’s Hospital, shawls and scarves for women going through chemotherapy, winter attire for families served by the local Red Cross. “It’s just a congenial group and we feel like we’re doing something constructive,” said Shapira. But at the same time, the gals – and their guy – also talk about whatever is on their minds. “You name it and we talk about it,” Shapira chuckled before detailing the various topics. The knitters wax poetic about everything from friends and family to food and their favorite programs on TV. Sometimes, they veer to the more serious side of things.
When Joanne MacDonald, 84, lost her husband, Donald, Blackburn, who is the pastor of Beechwood Baptist Church, performed the memorial service. During the ceremony, he made mention of a yahrtzeit candle, which is lit in memory of the dead in Judaism. Several of the knitters were in attendance at the service. Ever-curious as to why the Christian minister would reference a Jewish tradition, they approached Blackburn, who shared an interesting story.
He was raised by a Jewish mother and a Christian father. “To keep peace in the home, my father acquiesced to letting his (three) boys be raised Jewish,” Blackburn said. “I was raised in a conservative Jewish home” on the southeast side of Chicago. In 1974, Blackburn converted to Christianity after playing on a church softball team.
“Our mouths dropped,” Shapira recalled of her response to Blackburn’s “fascinating” tale.
As the women continued to talk with Blackburn, they found themselves endeared to his warm demeanor. In turn, “several of them remind me of my Bubby, my good Jewish grandma, and I wanted to start a new hobby,” he smiled.
Months later, Blackburn rarely missed a Monday night gathering. “It’s (the) friendship, to listen to their stories and because you have a very diverse group here,” he said, pointing out the group has members both Christian and Jewish, in addition to other external factors like age and socioeconomic status. “My piece looks like moths got a hold of it and it zigzags, but it’s just like any other thing: it takes time and practice. I told my wife, Margaret, I would have a scarf for her in a year.”
Blima Baer – who is 97 but said, laughing, “I’m younger than Anne (Shapira)” – doesn’t knit; she’s a needlepoint fan. “I come down mostly to be sociable. I roll the yarn into balls. That’s my claim to fame. It’s great to be able to look forward to it or meet a new person who’s just moved in. It’s a social time. I really enjoy it.”
Like some of the other regulars, Baer doesn’t have any kin nearby – unless you count those who love her like they’re related. “You’ve got me,” Shapira said, standing behind her friend and doling out a quick hug.
Baer smiled. “Anne is everybody’s friend. You do feel like (the knitting group is) a family. We celebrate different holidays together and it really makes it nice.”
Patty Rogers, 76, has been with the Clicking Knitters for the past four years and loves “creating beautiful things and giving them away to people who are in need. I’ve met all these sweet people,” she smiled. “We play bridge, go to lunch, go to dinner and we knit.”
Joan Klein, 85 – who jokingly calls the group “The Knit Wits” – has been knitting for at least seven decades and has no intention of ever stopping or leaving the group, either. “We’re knitting and we’re always laughing and telling stories. It’s just great. I’ve only lived here a little over two years. It helps, it really does.”
Contact writer Angie Fenton at 502.551.2698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | staff photographer
Category: Cover Stories
About the Author (Author Profile)
Angie Fenton is Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune, a Blue Equity company. She is also an entertainment correspondent for WHAS11′s new morning show, “Great Day Live!”, which debuted August 22 on Louisville’s ABC affiliate. Additionally, Angie is an entertainment correspondent for the Saturday Morning Show with Ron ‘n’ Mel Fisher on 84WHAS (840 AM) and has served in the same capacity for Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; Breeders’ Cup; and Circuit of the Americas during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in November 2012. Angie also serves as an emcee, host, voiceover professional and on-camera commercial talent.
Angie has a bachelor’s and master’s in English from Central Michigan University and began her career as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She is the youngest of five — four of whom were adopted, including Angie, and none of whom are biologically related. She is also a Michigan native who moved to Kentucky in June 2002. Angie is owned by two dogs — Herbie and Yoda — and feels lucky to have loved and been loved by many more, including Pooch, Jessie, Onyx, Jack and Big Bud, who took his last breath on Christmas Day 2012.