British woman is knitting queen for nearby U.S. military community
January 20, 2005
BENWICK, England — Each night in Queenie Vince’s home, the television flickers and the knitting needles fly.
With the telly for company, the 82-year-old widow creates baby clothes. She has done this nearly every night, several hours at a time, for years.
“I usually start about 6. If Rosemary [Johnson, a neighbor] comes in, I stop for about an hour,” said Vince, sitting comfortably in her knitting chair last week. “If not, I’ll just knit until about 10.”
And then, she gives the clothes to the nearby American military community, where they are passed to families Vince will never meet.
Dawn Centofanti, volunteer coordinator for the Family Support Center at RAF Alconbury, about 15 miles from Benwick, said she has no idea how many sets of clothes Vince has provided, but thinks it must be close to 300.
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” she said. “We tried to figure it out. It’s just amazing.”
The center provides her with the yarn, but Vince provides her skill and patience for free.
“It’s just something I do,” she said. “I sit here and do it while I’m watching television.”
She has been awarded a few certificates of appreciation from the base, and the command sergeant major of the U.S. European Command presented her a coin in 1999.
Johnson, who has worked on the base as a custodian for 14 years, connected Vince and the base about seven years ago after the death of another Benwick woman, Laura Bedford, who had been providing baby clothes to the base for two years.
“She was 99 when she died,” Johnson recalled.
Johnson asked Vince if she would take up the task. Vince’s husband, John, had died a couple of years earlier, so she agreed.
Vince said she learned to knit as a child, but doesn’t remember who taught her. Her mother didn’t know how, she said.
Her home is decorated with her work — tapestries hang on the wall in frames her late husband built, knitted stuffed dolls sit here and there.
“I don’t do much else now,” she said. “I used to knit a lot of toys when my nieces and nephews were younger. But they’re grown up now.”
Centofanti puts the knitted sets of baby clothes, which include booties and a cap, in a package provided to the families of newborns at RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth. The packages include diapers, a diaper bag, a blanket crocheted by women at the base, a baby rattle, a baby book and “whatever I can get,” she said.
Sometimes, she said, the base runs short of blankets.
“We send an SOS to Queenie and she stops what she’s doing and makes a blanket,” she said.
Vince doesn’t know how long it takes to make a set of clothes because, she said, “I never take notice of when I start or when I finish.”
Pushed a bit, she said that a set of clothes might take two weeks or more. A set with a pattern can take longer.
That means Vince has provided thousands of hours of volunteer effort to the American military community. That, she is told, is a lot of time to give away to strangers.
“I suppose it is when you think about it,” she said. “I just don’t think about it.”