'I'll Do it Until I Can't See Anymore': Women Knit Thousands of Slippers for Homeless Veterans, Deployed Troops

A basket filled with yarn and spools of thread
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BEMIDJI — Fifteen years ago, American Legion Auxiliary members Shirley Simmerman and Ardell Nadesan began knitting slippers for U.S. military troops and veterans.

Now thousands of pairs later, the two friends remain dedicated to keeping warm the feet of those who have served — and continue to serve — their country.

Since beginning their needlework in 2006, Simmerman, 93, has made about 2,000 pairs of slippers, and Nadesan, 87, has made 2,959 pairs. They said it takes four-ply yarn and a little less than an eight-ounce skein to make one pair.

Nadesan said she's timed herself and found that it takes about 10 hours to create a pair. Simmerman, on the other hand, guessed that it probably takes her a bit longer, as her eyesight has declined over the years.

"I knit just about every day. It's my relaxing time," Simmerman said. "Every time I go to sit down I think, 'Well I've got to do something.' So I'll knit a few rows, and I eventually get a slipper."

But with close ties to the military, both women said their knitting work holds special and personal meaning to them.

Simmerman has been an American Legion Auxiliary member for 65 years and was a former president of the Ralph Gracie Post No. 14. She has two daughters who are veterans, with one, Vickie, having served in the Army, and the other, Hollie, having served in the Navy. Her late husband Jimmy also served in the Air Force.

"So I have three branches represented," Simmerman said.

Nadesan, an American Legion Auxiliary member since 2004, has a son who is a veteran and an extensive family tree full of those who served in past wars.

"In my family history, veterans go all the way back to the War of 1812. My great-great grandfather was in that war," Nadesan said. "(Someone was in) every one but the Spanish-American War."

When their knitting project began, there was another knitter named Mary Pierce involved in helping coordinate the distribution of the slippers. Although she relocated to New Prague, Minn., a few years ago, she continues to help Simmerman and Nadesan with the distribution side of things.

In February 2018, Pierce submitted a Letter to the Editor to the Pioneer, thanking those in the American Legions and VFW Auxiliaries who have had a hand in creating the slippers.

"Years ago a knitting group started in Laporte, of which I was a member. Out of that group came contacts with Bemidji women who had knitted slippers for soldiers . . . I have a son, now deployed, who had 170 pairs of slippers sent by request to his fellow airmen and airwomen deployed out of Colorado Springs, Colo.," Pierce wrote. "Before that he had been at Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Base and these same ladies sent slippers for those deployed out of that site.

"Now in deployment, he is starting to make wellness visits to the people at his base. He takes slippers with (him) on those visits. Faces light up when the person sees what has been made for them by our Minnesota people."

Nadesan also works to distribute slippers, particularly at VA Stand Down events in the state. These events work to provide supplies and services to homeless veterans. She said she usually distributes 75 to 80 pairs there and plans to possibly do more this fall in St. Cloud.

"With Stand Down, veterans come back the next year and say how much they enjoyed the slippers, and I tell them to take another pair," Nadesan said.

Neither of the ladies has plans to retire from knitting slippers anytime soon.

"I expect I'll do it until I can't see anymore," Simmerman said. "We just want to help the veterans and also the troops because their feet must get really cold over there at night."

And their dedication to bringing comfort and a little piece of home to U.S. service people around the world hasn't gone unnoticed by the slipper wearers themselves.

In a 2008 letter to the Pioneer, Rob Haas, who was stationed at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea at the time, wrote: "I am a Bemidji native and recently moved to Korea . . . With all the negativity about what is going on in the world, it is awesome to know that there are people who still care about the military."

This article is written by Bria Barton from The Bemidji Pioneer and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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