Wilma Goins uses every minute and every penny she has to spare to help others.
After her husband Kelso’s death in 1979, Goins, 97, has found ways to keep herself productive in the time without him. She keeps her three-bedroom house spotlessly clean, beds made, floors mopped, and photos from her childhood straightened in their places on the walls.
She does her own shopping, hitching rides with friends to get to the grocery store, and goes out to dinner. Even as she approaches a century in age, Goins doesn’t slow down.
And when she isn’t shopping, cooking, or cleaning, she is busy working for a good cause — crocheting afghans for the Tooele County Children’s Justice Center.
In one room, she stores her finished afghans she will donate to the children’s justice center. In another, she has organized stacks of mail from charity organizations on her kitchen table.
It was 15 years ago at her Bible study group, when Goins first heard about the children’s justice center’s need for blanket donations.
“Oh, that was so many years ago,” Goins said. Other study group members … even brought their mending along, because they couldn’t catch up at home.”
In the study group were her two friends, Lichi and Ron Quinn, who often made embroidered canvas ornaments to give to charity. They told her about the children’s justice center project. They said the organization was accepting quilt and blanket donations for children who had been displaced due to abuse. Although Goins wanted to provide service, the prospect of making more quilts after spending almost 70 years of her life quilting just didn’t appeal to her.
So, she called up the children’s justice center.
“…I said, ‘I’ve made so many quilts in my life…’” Goins remembered. So, she queried,“’How about afghans? Would that work?’”
In fact, they replied, Afghans would work. So, Goins’ 15-year project began.
Many days, Goins works with the radio playing church music or the TV on. As she listens, she counts stitches.
She said she works only with a size H crochet hook and skeins upon skeins of yarn. She crafts afghans with every color under the rainbow. While working, she thinks about the kids who will find comfort from her act of love.
For her, a single afghan can take anywhere from two weeks to two months to complete. During the last 15 years, she estimates she has made and donated hundreds of afghans to the justice center.
At age 12, Goins said she noticed her love for cloth and yarn. That was when her mother taught her to embroider. She first practiced embroidering on dish towels and pillowcases. She taught herself some crochet stitches, which she would use to create an edge on the pillowcases.
But, growing up on a farm in Flandreau, South Dakota, didn’t leave her with much time to practice her craft.
Her generous, service-oriented spirit sprung from her youth while she worked hard on the family’s South Dakota farm. Because of this upbringing, she learned to accomplish goals with what she had while helping others in any way she could.
“First we had our chores to do, dishes to do, and all that…” Goins said. “We milked cows, we herded the sheep…”
Along with their daily chores, she and her three siblings — Dorothy Eva, Joyce Marie and George Leroy — walked 6 miles roundtrip for school every day. Goins continued to embroider and sew, but wouldn’t learn to crochet until years later, when her Aunt Mary helped her and the other girls in the family with their crocheting techniques, among other things.
“Aunt Mary … helped us girls with a lot of things,” Goins recalled. “How to fasten a brassiere an easy way — all those things. Aunt Mary was always there.”
Today, Goins puts her aunt’s teaching to use as she crochets her afghans. Because of habit, or perhaps ease, she always uses the same pattern — nine round, long strips stitched together to make a scalloped edge. She spends untold hours, daily, working on her donations.
Her schedule is simple. She wakes up in the morning and crochets, cleans, and has lunch. After lunch, she takes a nap, gets the mail, and crochets. Then, dinner, and more crocheting.
It ’s time well spent, she said. About every six months, Goins has stockpiled six to eight afghans that she is then ready to donate to the justice center.
Some of the long-term volunteers at the justice center now know Goins by name. She keeps every thank-you note she’s received from the organization.
Because of her afghans, the children, who are taken to the children’s justice center to be interviewed by police or medical examiners, find comfort from their opportunity to choose a blanket and stuffed animal donated by their community, which they then will be able to take with them.
“We have actually seen comfort come to the children as they are taking the time to choose their items,” said Rachael Cowan, director of the children’s justice center for the last five years. “It’s like a weight is lifted off their shoulders.”
Goins’ afghans have helped traumatized children find comfort. And, what’s more, her work makes her happy, too.
“Oh, I love to crochet,” she said.
While she said she uses every color of yarn imaginable, her favorite colors of yarn are purple and pastel colors. Her least favorite colors are bright red, bright green and black.
Black, she said, is the hardest color to work with when crocheting because it’s difficult to see your stitches and catch mistakes.
Of all of the afghans she has made, the toughest afghan Goins has crocheted was for her grandson. Not only did he want it black, but he was also six-foot-four.
Goins shook her head as she recalled making it.
“He says, ‘Grandma, I want it to go over my feet and up under my chin,’” she said. “What color? …‘Black.’”
“’Oh, Bob, no … ” She replied to his request, “I’ll put some gray in it!’”
Though Goins has loads of yarn, sometimes she needs to shop for another skein to match what she is using. Doris Kupfer, Goins’ longtime friend from church, said though Goins has bags of skeins waiting to be used, she often needs to find the perfect match for the colors she has.
If she can’t match the color, she’ll give it to neighbors or friends from church who also work with yarn. And they give yarn to her as well.
Another neighbor and close friend, Helen, once brought Goins a huge box and a garbage can packed full of hundreds of skeins of yarn from an estate sale. Even after nearly three years, Goins said she still hasn’t used all of it.
“There’s no yarn wasted around here,” Kupfer said. “She uses every thread, or it goes to someone who can use it.”
But even with all that careful work, Goins said she doesn’t love every afghan she makes.
“I think some are ugly,” she said. “I make them, and I don’t care for them.”
But, knowing some people think the colors she dislikes are beautiful, she makes and donates the afghans in those colors anyway, knowing that they will make someone happy.
In addition to the afghans, after her husband’s death, Goins has also worked hard to help the Tooele community, donating a large portion of her income to charities.
Although she makes a little extra money doing commissions for her friends and family, she often turns around and donates the money back to charities.
As for future plans, Goins said she will continue to put hours more of her energy to continue crocheting for kids in need — and will do so as long as she can.
Of this can-do spirit, Kupfer says that Goins’ work has brought charity service into the limelight.
“People open their eyes to what the need is,” Kupfer said. In turn, more people start donating, and even more will come forward to help and better the community.
What does Goins have to say to that?
She looks up from her crochet hooks with a smile and says, “Oh, that would be wonderful!”
Goins’ devotion to help the children’s justice center has helped many people, but she said there is more work to do. She encourages others to donate blankets/afghans, toys and money to the children’s justice center.
If you would like to donate yarn to Goins, you can bring your donations to the First Baptist Church at 580 S. Main in Tooele. For children’s justice center donations, which can also include clothing and stuffed animals in additions to the afghans, bring your donations to 25 S. 100 East in Tooele City.