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'Nobody's got a record like she has:' How 1 Utah woman made 1,000 coats for humanitarian center

Betty Luke has lived in Venice all her life — not quite Italy, but a quaint farming town just a few miles outside Richfield, Utah. In her mountain home, Luke has spent her nearly 87 years perfecting a craft that has led her nimble fingers to many invaluable opportunities.

“I like to sew, I’ve sewed all my life,” Luke said in an interview with the Church News. “I have operated power machines, been manager of a sewing plant … and had a small business (where I owned) an upholstery shop.”

But perhaps Luke's greatest venture yet came when she closed up shop after 40 years of business and was left with piles of excess material. It was these “little scraps,” Luke explained, that inspired her to start weaving bits of fabric into beautiful winter coats — coats that appear to be professionally crafted.

Luke found a home for her one-of-a-kind coats at the Richfield Humanitarian Center.

“(When) I took (the coats) over to the Humanitarian Center, they said ‘Oh bring them right in, we’ll take care of them’, so I kept on sewing.”

Since that day over six years ago, Luke has donated 1,000 handmade coats “all made out of scraps.”

“Everyone has been so generous to send me a little scrap here and there,” Luke said. “I enjoy the good feeling … of producing stuff that other people need.”

Betty Luke photographed sewing one of her handmade winter coats.
Betty Luke photographed sewing one of her handmade winter coats. Photo: Courtesy of Courtney Anderson

But Luke’s work isn’t just limited to making coats — she and her best friend, Margaret Cowley, along with other elderly widows in the Venice Ward, Richfield Utah Stake make 4-5 quilts a week at the Humanitarian Center.

“We’ve been inviting our neighbors and friends, anyone that seems interested,” Cowley said. “There will be a day where all of the bishops and clergy will come and take all the things that they need and want, (so) it directly impacts the community.”

The day Cowley is referring to is The Richfield Humanitarian Center's annual Christmas Closet where leaders of local clergy come pick up coats, blankets, quilts, toys, etc. for those in need.

“We are involved with six counties (and) all denominations,” Cowley said. “(The Humanitarian Center) is open to all, everyone is invited to participate.”

Luke’s coats are on full display during these community events. In fact, one little boy loved his coat so much that no one could get him to take it off. “He’d never had such a nice coat,” Cowley explained.

Despite the appreciation felt in the community for Luke's expert craftmanship, she’s far more interested in getting people involved with volunteering.

“(I) invite them (all),” Luke said. “(People) just have to (come) be apart of it.”

Though Cowley has done her fair share of humanitarian work, she didn't hesitate to join the choir and sing Luke’s praises.

“Nobody’s got a record like she has,” Cowley said. “She doesn’t hear very well, we’re getting up there in years, but she’s still there every single week, always doing what needs to be done. … She makes the coats in her own home, not just at the humanitarian center. … She’s an extra-miler in every respect.”

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