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Helping heart, healing hands

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91-year-old honored for her charitable giving

By Shannon Brock

Thelma Bradley is in a battle with arthritis — but it’s a battle she’s winning.

Bradley crochets about 10 hours a day, every day, and her giving heart is never stifled by the disease affecting her hands.

“They’re knobby, but they work,” said Bradley, who will turn 92 in July.

Over the past year, Bradley put those hands to use making around 100 lap blankets, about 90 of which were donated to Mayfair Manor, a nursing home in Lexington.

The residents enjoyed her “Blankets of Love” so much that they honored her with a dozen roses and a certificate of appreciation on March 22. In the same ceremony, Bradley received a distinguished citizen plaque from the city of Lexington and a Kentucky Colonel designation from the state.

Bradley, who still keeps her own home in Anderson County, got linked up with Mayfair Manor through her pastor, Carl Jones, the facility’s activity director.

“I used to volunteer in nursing homes,” Bradley said. “I just have a heart for them.”

When Jones started working at the facility, “she told him she would help anyway she could,” said Judy Howard, one of Bradley’s four daughters.

Bradley’s husband, who passed away four years ago, used a wheelchair, “so she knows just the right size to make them so they don’t get caught,” Howard said.

Bradley moved to Lawrenceburg shortly after her husband died. Since then, the blanket ministry “has been a blessing to me, too,” she said.

“They had been together 63 years, and she left their home,” said Bradley’s granddaughter and Howard’s daughter, Angela Bragg. “So, this has been a healing thing, a healing process.”

“Sometimes when you do for others, you do for yourself,” Howard said.

Bradley said she was always taught that it was better to give than to receive — a philosophy her daughter remembers from her childhood as well.

Howard said that around Christmas time, her mother would get out the old dolls her children weren’t playing with anymore and repaint their faces, make them new outfits and donate them to the less fortunate.

“Of course when we saw them all cleaned up, we wanted them back,” Howard said.

Bradley sometimes gave in and let her daughters each pick one doll, but the rest were donated to charity.

Bradley has seemingly always been a creative person with a big heart, her daughter said.

Her mother taught her to sew as a young girl, and her sister taught her to crochet when she was 9. To this day, “she still has people over for lessons,” Bragg said.

Bragg called her grandmother “a very remarkable woman” who has seen a lot of changes in her 91 years.

“She grew up in a time where they let school out to watch a plane fly over,” Bragg said.

Now, Bradley gets online to chat with her children and grandchildren, Howard said.

Bradley’s family is spread out over several states, and she credits family members with keeping her blanket ministry going.

One of her daughters is a pastor’s wife who has spread the word about her mother’s charitable ways from Ohio to Missouri.

As a result, most of Bradley’s materials are donated. She’s received yarn from Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Kentucky, Alabama and Colorado, she said.

Each of the lap blankets costs about $25 in materials to make, Howard said.

“Without the yarn, there would be no ministry,” she said.

Bradley said she’s thankful for the donations that allow her to do work for the Lord.

“The Lord deserves all the credit,” she said. “He has helped me every time.

“This is what we’re put here for — to help those who can’t help themselves.”

Bradley said making the blankets has been a “lifesaver.”

“It’s something to do to help someone, and it helps my hands to keep working,” she said.

“I suppose I would have done something one way or the other, but the Lord has taken care of my hands. If you took my hands away, I’d be sunk.”

E-mail Shannon Mason Brock at sbrock@theandersonnews.com.