Remembering an Alcona County Quilt Trail founder

An avid quilter and the designer, painter and powerhouse behind Michigan’s first Quilt Trail recently passed away.

Founder of Alcona County Quilt Trail, Cindi VanHurk | Photo by: Wes Stanford, True North Magazine.

Founder of Alcona County Quilt Trail, Cindi VanHurk | Photo by: Wes Stanford, True North Magazine.

It was a warm summer day in 2007 when I stopped at the Harrisville Hollyhock Quilt Shoppe. I was there to share what I learned about barn quilt trails from a friend and professor at Michigan State University, Wynne Wright. Barn quilt trails were already popular in many southern states and perhaps a trail could be started in Alcona County, Michigan.

Cindi VanHurk, who was working at the Quilt Shoppe, became very excited when I mentioned this, and she quickly retrieved an article about quilt trails, which she had been saving for just the right time. And this moment happened to be just the right time. Cindi jumped right into helping launch the project.

With representatives from Michigan State University, Michigan State University Extension and Alcona County residents, a community process began. Information about the history and how to initiate a barn quilt trail was researched by students from Michigan State University. Public meetings were held to share the information with local residents, as well as volunteer recruitment and learning about potential cultural and heritage sites around the county.

A year later, the first barn quilt was erected at Bill and Billie Thompson’s home, followed by seven more sites. The Thompson’s, along with Cindi, became the driving force for the next phase of the project.

In 2009, the Alcona County community continued to work together to construct, paint and install large wooden quilt squares on 20 more barns around the county. A self-guided tour map was created, and Cindi distributed hard copies to visitor information sites throughout Michigan. She developed relationships with leaders from other barn quilt trails and worked with local volunteers to develop the Alcona County Quilt Trail website, as well as digitizing the map displaying all 28 barn quilts locations.

Committee member Billie Thompson says, “Cindi was the driving force in getting our quilt trail designed and implemented in our county, and she will be greatly missed.”

Cindi was a passionate leader with a skill for organizing projects and people. On page 181 in the book “Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement”, author Suzi Parron provided a wonderful tribute to Cindi’s ability to move a group to action. When Parrons’ writing collaborator, Donna Sue Groves, was sick with cancer, Suzi sent an email to the many women she met while touring quilt trails across the country. Suzi describes what happened this way, “Cindi Van Hurk leapt into action by sending an email asking quilters in the area to participate in a ‘card shower’.” 

A few weeks later, Donna Sue wrote a thank you note to Cindi revealing, “I was having my last week of chemo and had decided I just couldn’t do it anymore. Unexpectedly, my mailbox filled with cards from Alcona County, Michigan. Those cards gave me the strength to continue and finish with my treatments.”

Cindi Van Hurk was a key contributor to the success of the trail and continued to promote it even when moving to another county. Her leadership and contribution will not be forgotten.

It has been nine years since the first barn quilt was erected, and the Alcona County Quilt Trail committee is starting the process of evaluating and renewing the existing wooden quilts. For more information about how to help with this project, please contact Bill or Billie Thompson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).