This American flag has stars and stripes – and faces and stories.
So many stories.
The flag is a quilt featuring the faces and names of the 120 law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in the United States in 2012. Wichita police officers Alayna and Rob Kempf, who made the quilt with help from others, will take the flag to National Police Week in Washington, D.C., next week and donate it to the Law Enforcement Museum scheduled to open in 2015.
“It’s been my husband’s goal for a couple of years,” Alayna Kempf said as she showed the quilt Tuesday in City Hall.
The flag quilt is a special offering from Final Call Quilts, the organization the Kempfs set up to create quilts for family members of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty. The first was made for Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Etheridge, who was killed in September 2009.
“It just really hit home, the death of Brian,” Kempf said.
She had never met Brian or his wife, Sarah. But as she lay in bed that night, she said, she kept thinking, “We really need to do something for his wife.”
The idea of a quilt came to her. She hadn’t sewn much since seventh grade, but she was undeterred.
She was able to get Brian’s uniforms within a day of his death and used the fabric to create quilts for Sarah and her daughter, Natalie.
More quilts for the families of other fallen officers would follow. To date, the Kempfs have made nearly 200 quilts. They go to spouses and any surviving children, Kempf said. If the officer was single, the quilts are given to his or her parents.
The Kempfs monitor the Officer Down Memorial Page online and contact the departments where the fallen officer worked to see whether the family is interested in receiving a quilt. They then ask for and use the officer’s uniform material to make the quilt.
Kempf estimates she works 30 to 40 hours a week on the various quilting projects, on top of her full-time job as a security officer at City Hall. Her husband helps as well, when he’s not working his overnight shift in Patrol West.
For the flag quilt, they pulled photos for each of the officers who died on duty in 2012 from the Officer Down Memorial Page.
“These are all fathers, mothers, brothers, children,” Alayna Kempf said.
Other officers have asked them how they can do this work, which reminds them of death every day. But to the Kempfs, the quilts offer something positive – comfort for a family enduring intense grief.
The widow of one officer asked them to incorporate a uniform pocket that still had gum he had accidentally left inside.
“She wanted to be able to open the pocket and see it,” Kempf said.
Another quilt featured the officer’s handwritten name inside a waistband. Pockets and buttons – things the fallen officer regularly touched – are included whenever possible, along with tidbits reflecting “inside stories” meaningful to the families.
“We laugh and we cry, we pray for these families, and you build bonds with people you don’t even know,” Kempf said.
As often as possible, the Kempfs hand-deliver the quilts to the families of the fallen officers. They include their children in the shorter trips “so they can see the impact it has,” she said.
The Kempfs paid for all the quilts in the first 18 months of their mission, but now accept donations and have applied for nonprofit status for Final Call Quilts. Three others, including Sarah Etheridge Purcell, have become significantly involved in the organization as well.
Alayna Kempf considers what she’s doing to be God’s work, and she’s “trusting in God to take care of us.”
There could be “a tidal wave of requests” for quilts after National Police Week, she said.
“We just need to be financially set to handle the costs of doing the quilts,” she said.