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Face of Defense: Volunteer Knits Items for Pediatric Patients

By Elaine Sanchez
Brooke Army Medical Center

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Nov. 22, 2013 – Shirley Adcock, an 86-year-old lifelong knitter, is hoping to weave her hobby into some holiday cheer for children receiving medical treatment.

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Shirley Adcock, a volunteer at the Burn Center, displays her hand-knitted stuffed dolls and animals at San Antonio Military Medical Center, Nov. 19, 2013. Adcock donated dozens of handmade toys to the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic. U.S. Army photo by Robert Shields

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Adcock, a volunteer at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center here, donated dozens of her hand-crafted dolls and stuffed animals to the San Antonio Military Medical Center’s Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic.

“I hope they bring some joy to the children,” said Adcock, who sits surrounded by the fruits of her labor -- elephants, bears, koalas, pandas and frogs -- all painstakingly crafted down to the colorful laces on their knitted shoes.

As a volunteer in the Burn Intensive Care Unit, Adcock offers comfort to family members waiting to see their loved ones after a surgery or treatment. When the waiting room is empty, she reaches for the knitting needles that have become nearly an extension of her hands since she started knitting as a very young girl.

“The toys are an outlet for me,” Adcock said with a trace of an Australian accent -- a remnant of her youth in Sydney. “I’m hoping to teach some of the ladies in the waiting room so they can fill the time.”

Adcock’s grandmother first taught her to knit when she was 4 years old. She knitted socks and sweaters for her family until they were “socked out.” As a teen in the early 1940s, she helped the war effort by knitting wool socks and balaclavas, a type of ski mask, to keep the Australian soldiers warm. One night a week, she and other ladies would set up shop in an empty store in the Sydney suburbs and sew camouflage netting.

Soon after, she was selected to work for the U.S. Army Air Corps and shipped to the Philippines, where she did administrative work for several American generals, including Curtis LeMay. She was en route to Washington D.C., for a new job when she met her husband, a Detroit police officer and World War II veteran named Benton Adcock. That was 65 years ago, Adcock said proudly.

While her husband served in the Army Reserve and the Border Patrol, Adcock took on a number of office jobs over the years, but never lost her passion for knitting. After retirement, she decided to volunteer one day each week at BAMC, where she and her husband are enrolled for medical care, and launched her stuffed toy venture on the side.

“I wanted to put my knitting to good use,” she said. “There’s no better way to do that than giving to children.”

Each night, Adcock and her husband sit side by side and watch their favorite shows, the rapid clicking of her knitting needles a nearly constant companion. Adcock can polish off a small toy in a day or two and a large one in a week, she said.

At 86 and “with nothing left to buy, this gives me something to do,” she said with a smile.

With her first batch of stuffed toys delivered, Adcock plans to start on a new set that will include some firemen, policemen, ballerinas, and more. While she has a few ideas, “I want to make the toys the children want,” she said.

She also hauled in several large stuffed clowns this week that will be displayed on the first floor of the hospital. One has a Christmas theme, complete with a wish list stuffed in a knitted pocket and a snowman perched on a winter hat.

As she walked across the hospital parking lot, clowns in hand, several people stopped her and asked her if the dolls were for sale.

She told them all no.

“I’ll never sell them,” she said. “I do this for the children.”


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Click photo for screen-resolution imageShirley Adcock, a volunteer at the Burn Center, hands Mary Juarez, medical clerk, a batch of hand-knitted stuffed dolls and animals as part of a donation to the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, Nov. 19, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Robert Shields  
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