UACES Facebook Ryburn family donates 1940s veterans quilt to Cleveland County
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Ryburn family donates 1940s veterans quilt to Cleveland County

By Tracy Courage
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Nov. 15, 2023

Fast Facts: 

  • Patriotic quilt honors 900+ Cleveland County World War II veterans
  • Extension agent Pamela Ryburn Pruett donates family heirloom to Cleveland County
  • Quilt made in 1944 by Artie Ryburn and Cleveland County Home Demonstration Clubs

(966 words)
(Newsrooms: With photos)

RISON, Ark. — A 1940s quilt embroidered with the names of more than 900 Cleveland County World War II veterans has quietly been passed down through generations of Artie Ryburn’s family — and now it has once again changed ownership. Its new home is the Cleveland County courthouse, where it will be permanently displayed.

A RICH HISTORY — Pamela Ryburn Pruett and her family gather by the Service Men's Quilt that Pruett's grandmother helped make in 1944. From left to right, back row: Luke Pruett, Tim Scholes, Kim Ryburn Ferguson, Thomas Pruett, Pam Ryburn Pruett, Lauren Mitchell, Penny Ryburn Scholes, Liam Pruett, Ken Pruett, Alicia Baldwin, Sara Mitchell, Pat Ryburn. Front: April Pruett and Elliot Pruett (Division of Agriculture Photo.)

The quilt is a gift from Pamela Ryburn Pruett, a Mississippi County Extension family and consumer science agent with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Pruett’s grandmother, Artie Elizabeth Hamilton Ryburn, helped hand-stitch the red, white and blue cotton quilt.

“It has been a prized possession in our family for many years,” Pruett said. “We thought it only right that it return home to Cleveland County for the families of these servicemen to enjoy.”

The Cleveland County Service Men’s Quilt was unveiled Nov. 11 — on Veterans Day — inside the courthouse in downtown Rison where more than 50 residents gathered to see the quilt’s unveiling and to celebrate Veterans Day.

Stitching history

The late Artie Ryburn and her husband, Albert Alexander Ryburn, were Cleveland County natives, and Artie was a member of the Mount Carmel Home Demonstration Club — the precursor to today’s Extension Homemakers Clubs. She was among the group of women who made the quilt in 1944 as a home demonstration club project to raise money for war bond effort.

The 9-by-9-foot quilt has 36 squares, and each square includes the names of 24 servicemen embroidered with red or blue thread. More names are embroidered in white on the quilt’s red side panels. Gold stars were stitched by the names of those who died in combat, and silver stars indicate acts of valor.

“The quilt was raffled in 1945 to raise money, and my grandmother won the raffle,” Pruett said.

When she died, the quilt passed to her son, Doyle Ryburn, who served in the Army on the European front and whose name is on the quilt. His wife, Marilyn, then passed it on to Pruett.

“My grandmother wanted the quilt to stay in our family,” Pruett said. “Our family wanted to do something very special to honor its story and the many veterans who served their country. We want their families to be able to enjoy it too.”

Pruett, who works with Extension Homemakers Clubs in Mississippi County, reached out to Karen Bell Fox, a member of Cleveland County Extension Homemakers Council. Fox and the EHC club worked with the county officials and the Cleveland County Historical Society to secure a place inside the courthouse to display the quilt.

Extension Connection

Home demonstration clubs, like the one Artie Ryburn was a part of, were an important outreach of the Cooperative Extension Service, which started in the early 20th century as an experiment in adult education. The home demonstration agents taught farm women improved methods for accomplishing their household responsibilities and encouraged them to better their families’ living conditions through home improvements and labor-saving devices.

“During the war, there was a need to teach families how to can and preserve food, how to care for families, how to stretch a budget, even how to make a mattress,” Fox said.Extension Homemakers have a rich history in Arkansas, and our mission continues to be education, leadership and community service.”

Stories of sacrifice

Vickie Padgett was one of the Cleveland County residents who witnessed the quilt’s unveiling. Padgett brought along a framed photo of her uncle, Marvin Ed Terry, who is listed on the quilt as “PFC Buck Terry,” as he liked to be called. Terry was serving with the Fifth Armored Division in Luxembourg, Germany, when he was killed in action on Sept. 30, 1944. He was 28 years old. His body was the first to be returned home by train to Cleveland County, and the event was well-documented in local newspapers.

“An Army Jeep was sent out to bring my grandmother into town because she lived two miles from Rison,” Padgett said. “I always thought it was so thoughtful that the ‘business houses’ on Main Street closed until his body reached the funeral home.”

On Saturday, Padgett admired the quilt and took photos of her uncle’s name embroidered in navy blue thread.

“It’s just beautiful,” she said. “I don’t have the words.”

Wartime quilts

Quilts like the Cleveland County Service Men’s Quilt are significant as both an art form and for the history they help preserve.

“During wartime, women made quilts for their sweethearts, husbands, sons and other family members who were fighting overseas. A lot these quilts have been collected and placed in museums and exhibits across the U.S.,” Annette Rawls, Cleveland County Historical Society treasurer, said.

Pruett’s cousin, the late Elizabeth Ryburn Ferguson, documented the quilt’s history, which is housed at the Cleveland County Library.

Some of that history is now included in a new booklet created by the Cleveland County Extension Homemakers Council and Cleveland County Historical Society. The 38-page publication details the quilt’s history with several pages dedicated to close-up photos of each quilt square. The names of additional Cleveland County veterans not on the quilt are listed in the booklet.

“We realized a lot of servicemen from Cleveland County didn’t have their name on the quilt,” Rawls said. “Some of them enrolled after 1944 when the quilt was made. We researched and found another large group of names, and we included those in the book.”

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on X and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on X at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on X at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Media Contact: 
Tracy Courage