A surviving miner of the Sago Mine disaster, Randal McCloy Jr., and his family with the quilt Rose Brooks of Decatur and her sister Mona Brommer of Denver, N.C., made to honor the miners who died Jan. 2, 2006.
Sisters' quilt recalls Sago mining disaster
Handiwork used to commemorate 1st anniversary
Rose Brooks comes from a family of coal miners in Clintwood, Va.
As a teenager, her father worked on his knees with a pick and shovel until his back gave way at 60. His three sons followed. Two reached retirement. The other is a state mine inspector.
Brooks' husband, Charles, dug Clintwood's coal on two separate occasions. He escaped the mines by joining the Navy during World War II, and left them for good by re-enlisting for the Korean War.
"Coal mining was all there was to do back there," said Brooks, who moved to Decatur with her family in 1963.
And perhaps going to church, and quilting, which her parents mastered. Carl Stanley pushed the art on the couple's five daughters when each married.
"Daddy gave Charles a quilting frame with instructions," she said. "They were, 'Tell Rose to learn to quilt.' "
Those memories came to her Jan. 2, 2006, during the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia, when an explosion trapped 13 miners. For 44 hours families waited on news of their fate, much of the time gathering at nearby Sago Baptist Church. Only one, 26-year-old Randal McCloy Jr., survived.
As the first anniversary of the tragedy approached, Brooks, who will be 76 Wednesday, called her sister Mona Brommer in Denver, N.C.
"Do you still have the pattern for the miner's quilt?" she asked.
Brommer had assembled the top of the quilt but it needed the batting and lining.
"Mail it to me," Brooks said, "and I will quilt it, and we'll send it to Sago."
But after her work, Brooks returned it to her sister, who has a lettering machine.
"Underneath each of the 12 squares, I placed the name of a deceased miner and his age," Brommer said Wednesday from Denver. "I reserved the top of the middle square for Randal's name and his photo. Afterwards, I mailed the quilt to Sago Baptist Church."
Brooks said she and her sister felt compelled to do something.
"We endured that type agony," she said. "My husband's brother worked in the coal mines, too. After he and his crew came off a shift, the mine blew up, killing several. When my own brothers and cousins left in the mornings, we didn't know whether they'd be back or not."
In early January, church officials displayed the quilt for the anniversary observance. McCloy and his family came. The church then sent the quilt to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W. Va., where McCloy was treated. It became part of the hospital's rotating quilt exhibit through April.
The hospital distributed a pamphlet detailing the 16 quilts displayed with a special page on the "Sago Miner's Quilt." It read, in part, "People everywhere felt the need to reach out to the families, including Mona Stanley Brommer and Rose Stanley Brooks, sisters who made this quilt in tribute to those miners and their families."
Judy Helms Shackelford, a sister of dead miner Terry Helms, has worked at the hospital 22 years. She wrote Brooks and Brommer in February to express her gratitude.
"Terry was my younger brother," she wrote. "I look up at the quilt every morning when I go to work. It's wonderful. I also tell people my brother's name is on it. We all miss our Terry so much. He was kind and had lots of friends. He would help anyone!"
Brooks said she and her sister suggested that when they're finished with the exhibits the church present the quilt to McCloy.
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