A ‘labor of love’ to honor a loved one

Published 3:49 pm Thursday, April 6, 2023

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People have unique ways of honoring family who passed. Some leave flowers on their tombstones. Others create a grant or scholarship in their relative’s name. Deb Wessling made a satchel.

“My uncle [Kenny Girard] died this last fall,” Wessling said. “…He was in the army in the 1st Armored Division.”

Not wanting to see his uniform hang in a closet and age, her cousin Lance Girard asked her if she would make a bag out of his father’s uniform, something he could use while honoring his father.

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Lance Girard also wanted something useful and that could be moved outside of the home.

After getting Kenny Girard’s uniform and dress shirt, Wessling went to work on the project she described as a “labor of love.”

Her first step entailed ripping the uniform apart, something that scared her.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, and here I was ripping up this coat,” she said.

While tearing it apart, memories of her uncle came back to her, including his humor, passion for motorcycles and his tendency to be wild.

She was particularly fond of the times they would go dancing while visiting family in Texas over the winters.

She was also meticulous in her work when it came time to remove patches from her uncle’s coat and shirt.

After she tore the coat apart, including the patches, she started looking for ideas but couldn’t find anything pertaining to turning a military uniform into a bag.

So she reached out to friends, where one had made a satchel out of different material.

“She looked at the bag, and she saw the two upper pockets, and she says, ‘Those are so cool. Those need to go on the bottom’” Wessling said. “That’s not what I was thinking.”

Wessling said people who saw the bag were “amazed” and described it as “beautiful,” and told her it was a great way to remember someone.

“I’m really proud of the bag,” she said. “It turned out better than I thought it would.”

Work on the bag, which is 11.5 inches by 14.5 inches and includes a 50-inch strap, began back in January, and she completed the bag, which she’ll present to Lance Girard in May when she returns for Memorial Day Weekend in May.

The outside wool of the bag is made of Kenny Girard’s military coat, while the cotton-polyester inside is made of his dress shirt. She also incorporated parts of his uniform into the bag’s lining.

Kenny Girard served in the 1960s during the Vietnam War.

“He was on the ship that was going to Cuba during the Cuba Missile Crisis, …” she said. “He was a medic.”

He was also a licensed barber and cut hair.