Schoharie woman hosts quilting class for creativity, companionship

Arlene Vrooman has kept herself pretty busy her entire life, and she sees no reason to slow down any
Arlene Vrooman of Schoharie holds up one of the quilts she's working on as B.J. Kubernach of Westerlo and Barbara Van Schaick of Rotterdam look on. (Bill Buell)
Arlene Vrooman of Schoharie holds up one of the quilts she's working on as B.J. Kubernach of Westerlo and Barbara Van Schaick of Rotterdam look on. (Bill Buell)

Arlene Vrooman has kept herself pretty busy her entire life, and she sees no reason to slow down anytime soon.

Her many jobs have included piano instructor, substitute teacher, tailor and journalist, and these days the 86-year-old Albany native and Schoharie resident remains as active as ever, hosting a quilting group at her home just off Route 30 three days a week.

“I get around 25 people here, that’s about seven or eight people for each class, three days a week,” said Vrooman, whose informal classes are free and run anywhere from three to five hours.

“We have fun, I enjoy teaching them and helping them get better, and it’s a chance for them to get out of the house.”

In the large historic house she shares with her daughter Sharon, Vrooman has dozens of hand-made quilts for sale in what she calls her “center parlor,” and she invites anyone to come in and take a look between 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Most of Vrooman’s quilts are the typical, large bed-sized pieces, while her daughter specializes in lap and children’s quilts. Most of her students these days — which includes one male — are longtime friends. Barbara Van Schaick of Rotterdam has been showing up at Vrooman’s house for more than 20 years.

“I met Arlene when she was teaching a quilting class in Cobleskill, and I didn’t finish it in the time we had for the class,” remembered Van Schaick.

“So, she invited me out to her house to finish it and I’ve been coming ever since. This is my highlight of the day, so I’d hate to miss it. I could do it at home now, but you wouldn’t take the time because there’s always something else to do. You come here and spend some time, and you can really push to get it finished.”

The six women who show up at Vrooman’s house on Tuesday each week do so year-round. Christine Wolf drives in from Quaker Street and rarely misses a get-together, as long as the weather isn’t too bad.

“I come to see my friends, and I show up because I have a business which I like to get away from, and I love to see other people,” she said.

“I wouldn’t have learned everything I’ve learned if it wasn’t for Arlene. She’s helped me make wedding quilts for my daughter and son, along with all kinds of things. I know that I just wouldn’t be doing this much sewing if I wasn’t here on Tuesdays doing it. I get here around 10 and leave around 2 or 3. It’s a great time.”

B.J. Kubernach of Westerlo was introduced to Vrooman and her quilters by Van Schaick around 10 years ago.

“I started coming with Barbara, and I really don’t know how many quilts I’ve made, but they all know how many I haven’t got finished,” said Kubernach, laughing. “But we have fun, and if I don’t know how to do something, Arlene is the instructor who does. She knows it all.”

youngest member

While most of the people attending Vrooman’s classes are retired, Amy Powarzynski of Westerlo is the mother of a fourth-grader. The youngest member of Vrooman’s circle, she works part time at the Westerlo Library.

“Mostly I’m a stay-at-home mom, but a friend of mine told me about Arlene’s quilting group and it sounded like something I’d be interested in,” said Powarzynski. “I was lucky enough to get a seat. I don’t come in the summer because of my son, but I’m here most every Tuesday when he’s in school.”

Powarzynski has been showing up at Vrooman’s home for a little more than a year, and has produced two bed-sized quilts and a 50th anniversary quilt for her family and friends.

“Part of the reason I show up is social; I really love hanging out with the ladies,” she said. “But I also learn much more when somebody is there showing me something, helping me do it myself, as opposed to reading things out of the book. Arlene is a great teacher.”

A graduate of Albany High who also earned a piano instructor’s certificate from the Academy of Holy Names when it was on Madison Avenue in Albany, Vrooman enjoys sharing her knowledge of quilting and local history with her visitors.

“This house, which I’ve lived in for 67 years, was built in 1780 after the Johnson-Brandt raid,” said Vrooman, referring to an event during the American Revolution. “The one that was here was destroyed. There’s a lot of great history right here in this neighborhood.”

Always active

Vrooman, whose husband, Harold, died four years ago, says she was never a person to take things easy.

“As a kid I walked to Albany High School on the corner of Western and Lake, and then I’d walk through Washington Park to get to Holy Names on Madison,” she said. “Kids today say they have it hard, but I walked to two schools every day. You don’t see that these days.

“I’ve always had all kinds of jobs, and with seven kids I needed to make some money somehow,” she continued. “I substituted, I worked in fabric stores tailoring, ‘five-and-tens.’ I even worked for different newspapers covering Schoharie and Middleburgh. What I do now is great fun, and I can handle 24, 25 people. I probably couldn’t handle any more though.”

Vrooman had always done a lot of sewing, and became involved in quilting during the country’s bicentennial celebration in 1976.

“The church was asking people to bring old quilts to help raise money for the bicentennial celebrations,” she remembered. “Then everybody wanted to learn how to make quilts, so I started demonstrating how at different places. I probably gave my first lesson in my house around 1980.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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