Lewisburg woman, 81, has sewn and given away more than 1,500 masks

Anne Estes has made and given away more than 1550 protective masks. CONTRIBUTED/STEPHANIE ESTES
Anne Estes has made and given away more than 1550 protective masks. CONTRIBUTED/STEPHANIE ESTES

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

She gets up every dat between 3:30 and 6:30 a.m., fixes her coffee and then gets busy. The sewing machine sits on her breakfast room table.

“I’m a morning person so I’ll sit for four or six hours at a time,” said 81-year-old Anne Estes of Lewisburg. By the end of each day, she’s made at least 30 new masks.

“The more masks I make, the more chance there is that one of those masks has prevented somebody from getting this horrible virus,” said Estes, who at last count has given away more than 1,500 of the colorful masks. “If it only keeps one person safe it was worth it.”

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Estes gives them to everyone — to first responders, schools, senior centers, to the homeless. She keeps a few in her purse at all times, offering them to folks who aren’t wearing masks or to patients at the cancer center where she’s being treated for cancer in her lungs and colon.

If she knows the recipient, Estes gets a kick out of selecting exactly the right fabric. Dog-lovers receive masks with a canine theme. For a friend who lost an 18-year-old son to a fatal accident, she created a mask sprinkled with guitars, his passion. For her daughter, Stephanie, who took up beekeeping, the mask was covered with bees.

“I went to my heart doctor last week and he’s retiring,” Estes said. “He saved my life, so I took him four masks and one of them had kites on it. I told him that was because there were probably times in his life that he felt like telling people to go fly a kite.”

Anne Estes has made and given away more than 1550 protective masks. CONTRIBUTED/STEPHANIE ESTES
Anne Estes has made and given away more than 1550 protective masks. CONTRIBUTED/STEPHANIE ESTES

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

A lifetime of kindness

Janis James, a close family friend, said Anne Estes has always been known for her acts of kindness.

In the mid ’60s, National Road had many hitchhikers, James said. “Somehow the word got out that there was a kind-hearted woman living nearby,” she said. “Anne fed many passers-by. She would fix a plate of food for anyone who asked, and they could sit out under the big maple tree in the front yard.”

The Estes family was known for its huge garden and Anne canned hundreds of quarts of tomatoes, beans, corn, soups and sauces. “She and the kids picked berries and made the best jellies in the world,” said James. “Friends received these jellies as treasured gifts.”

Estes still has a garden and supervises the jelly making. “Anne can look at fresh-picked tomatoes, beans or berries and tell you exactly how many quarts and pints they will produce,” said James. Estes is also known for her cookies and pies.

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“You’re not supposed to brag on what you do,” Estes said, “but my apple pie is to die for.”

Her volunteer work is also impressive. In the 1980s, she visited St. Joseph’s Residential Treatment Center and taught the children how to make homemade butter and biscuits. “She and her husband would often bring some of the children to their home for weekends,” James said. “They had acres of farmland for the kids to roam and a big barn to play in.”

When daughter Stephanie was director of Camp Miami in the summers, the staff knew there was always a hot meal waiting for them if they showed up at the Estes home on their day off. Estes taught Sunday school at Lewisburg United Methodist Church, served on the Preble County school board and wrote a weekly column in the Preble County Register Herald. The column, entitled “Memories,” recounted humorous stories of her Tennessee childhood, as well as the challenges and escapades of raising two sets of twins who were only four years apart.

Before COVID-19, Estes made and donated hats to local cancer centers. When the pandemic first hit and she saw on television that masks were needed, she decided that was one way she could make a difference.

A challenging childhood

Times were tough when Estes was a child in Sweetwater, Tenn. “Day-to-day living was always a struggle,” she said. “My father deserted us and my mother raised my two brothers and me. One brother was a juvenile diabetic.”

In those days, she said, if you could do something to make somebody happy, you did it. Her grandparents and aunts set a good example. One of her aunts always sewed.

“I would earn money in the summer and buy material and my aunt would make dresses for school,” Estes said. “When I made my first blouse, I put the sleeve in upside-down!”

Scraps were always saved and when her own children and grandchildren came along, they were all presented with memory quilts created from the pieces she had rescued. She now has four children, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Anne Estes has made and given away more than 1550 protective masks. CONTRIBUTED/STEPHANIE ESTES
Anne Estes has made and given away more than 1550 protective masks. CONTRIBUTED/STEPHANIE ESTES

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Mask maker

Estes was a nervous wreck for about a week when the pandemic first hit. The virus triggered childhood memories.

“When I was a child I’d go to the library twice a week and you could get two books at a time,” she said. “I remember reading a lot about the 1918 plague and I could just visualize the wagons going up and down, picking up corpses by the side of the road. It was so vivid to me. I’m a people person and I worry about all of my wonderful children, lovely grandchildren, friends and relatives.”

With the idea of keeping everyone safe, she began making masks and soon became known as the mask lady. Estes says each mask takes about 10 to 15 minutes to make, “depending how many times my fingers cramp up.”

The word has gotten out and now it’s not unusual for her to find a bag with 20 yards of fabric left on the front porch of her farmhouse or to receive an envelope stuffed with $20 bills.

The mask lady insists we all need to do what we can to make the world a little brighter. “We have had such a horrible year,” she said. “Everybody has something to contribute that will put a smile on someone else’s face.”

If you’d like to get in touch with Anne Estes, you can write to her at: masklady1546@aol.com.

Inspire Dayton

The Dayton region is known for coming together to help one another in difficult times. Throughout December, the Dayton Daily News has published the stories of people who have persevered and inspired others during this challenging year.