Scott Wasinger’s appearance in the rodeo ring at the Ellis County Fair on Wednesday evening wasn’t in his official capacity as a member of the Fair Board.

Much to his surprise, Wasinger was called out to be honored for something he did 22 years ago — serving his country in the U.S. Army, including Desert Storm.

Rodeo activities were paused briefly so members of the Ellis County 4-H Quilters could present Wasinger with a Quilt of Valor to thank him for his service.

As Toby Keith’s “American Soldier” played from the loudspeaker, the rodeo announcer said “Ladies and gentlemen there’s a hero before you.” People in the bleachers rose to their feet to clap and cheer.

Wasinger was humbled by the gesture.

“I was happy to serve and I’d do it again,” he said afterward outside the ring. “There’s a lot of great people out there deserving of this more than me; who have sacrificed more. But I do appreciate the honor.”

A service manager the past 25 years at James Motor Co., Hays, Wasinger entered the U.S. Army Reserve in 1986 with the 388th Medical Logistics Battalion in Hays and later was called to active duty with the 129th Transportation Company out of Osage and Emporia, moving tanks across Iraq.

He had no idea about the presentation. Gathered beforehand at the fair’s 4-H food building, the quilters’ group talked about what it took to cut and sew the royal blue and red Disappearing Nine Patch pattern.

“It was fun to make,” said Ella Neher, 9, who said she also brought goats and Italian lemon drop cookies to the fair, noting “I love to bake.”

Of quilting, 10-year-old Keeli Kimzey said, “once you get the hang of it, it’s not too hard.”

Marisa Wasinger, 11, agreed, saying “As long as it’s not too big, it’s not too hard. I’m sure most of us started with a rag quilt.”

There were, however, some difficulties making the quilt, said Eva Betz, 6.

“A couple of times we had thread start to ball up,” she said, clasping and intertwining her fingers in a round shape to make her point.

Ellis County 4-H County Wide Quilting Leader Tatum Kimzey, Catharine, has taught the girls for two years how to cut, sew and quilt, progressively taking them from easier to harder patterns.

“We also talked about what it meant to be a veteran,” Kimzey said. The best part for her daughter Keeli was seeing the finished quilt. “She liked the pattern so much she used it to make her own quilt for the fair and she got Reserve Champion on hers.”

Eva’s mom, Lynette Betz, praised the quilting leader’s knack for guiding the girls.

“Tatum is an amazing teacher,” she said. “She literally would Facetime the girls at home if they got stuck.”

Quilter Jamie Werth, who lives on a farm near McCracken, donated her time and equipment to stitch together the quilt top, the batting inside and the back.

Starting a local chapter of Quilt of Valor was the idea of Hays resident Connie Haselhorst. Kansas Grateful Stitchers has blossomed into a group of six quilters from Ellis, Barton and Rush counties. Their mission is to donate homemade quilts to men and women who have served in the military from Ellis, Rush, Rooks and Russell counties.

“Nothing is more comforting than snuggling up with a quilt,” said Haselhorst, who was delighted to see the group’s first quilt presented to Wasinger.

“I was hoping the kids would learn about giving back and being grateful — and they really pitched in. These kids really get it — how important it is to honor service members. It does a heart good to see them involved,” she said. “They are so excited to give this away.”

Quilt materials are purchased with donations they receive, which is managed through the national organization on behalf of the local group.

The 4-Hers met three times a week, working as a group for a couple hours at a time to sew together the blocks. Others working on the quilt were Karli Neher, Esther Neher, Emily McCord, Megan Howe, Mary Ella Dreiling, Kylie Dreiling and Nicole Dreiling.

When it came time to select a donor for the quilt, 4-Her Marisa Wasinger nominated her uncle.

Kansas Grateful Stitchers, which is on Facebook, is always looking for additional quilters. Volunteers pick up kits to stitch at home with six pre-cut blocks and the pattern. Kits are available at the Quilt Cottage Co. in Hays or A Quilt Corral in La Crosse. Quilters make as many or as few blocks as they want.

The Stitchers have finished four quilts so far and are seeking veterans to honor. Nominations can be made through www.qovf.org.

Their next presentation will be Aug. 25 at Rolling Plains Motor Speedway’s Military Appreciation Night at the Ellis County Fairgrounds.