Woman in her 90s makes over 1,000 masks for hospital

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

CEDAR RAPIDS — As she approached her ninety-first birthday, Alice Tritle recently reflected on another milestone that also had to do with numbers, but nothing to do with age.

From mid-March through mid-July, the experienced seamstress made over 1,000 facemasks for staff and patients at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. And she’s still going.  Stuck at home most of the time because she is in a vulnerable category for serious complications if she gets the coronavirus, the member of St. Jude Parish spends up to seven hours a day sewing the cotton masks. She also made 96 masks for her parish and at least 50 more for individuals who have asked her.

“The kind I make, the doctors and nurses, they can put them over their surgical masks to see patients, said Tritle in an interview with The Witness in late July. “People going into the emergency room, there is a place where they can pick up a mask and then they put that to be laundered again. They’re constantly being used.”

Tritle works with Judy Shimek, volunteer coordinator at Mercy Medical Center, a place where the senior citizen had volunteered for decades before the pandemic hit.

Alice Tritle is shown sewing a mask in her home using an electric sewing machine. (Contributed photo)

“Alice has been with us a very long time,” said Shimek. “Her and her husband volunteered here together.”

For a lot of that time, Tritle played piano for patients and did other things inside the facility. With the coronavirus making it too risky for her to enter the buildings, she turned to manufacturing the masks at home after hearing about a shortage early in the pandemic.

“Never in a million years did I think this girl would make 1,000 masks,” said Shimek. “It’s just been a delight working with her. Her Christian spirit inside her (shines through). Alice is a spitfire.”

Tritle learned to sew making dish towels with her mother as a child. She later made coats for her children and suits for her husband, now deceased. The couple was married for 64 years. The former school teacher still gives piano lessons from home. She played the organ at St. Jude Church during Masses for many years.

“I didn’t read notes until I was age 40 something,” she recalled. “I have had three students get their degree in music.”

She uses an electric sewing machine to create the masks from rolls of fabric, much of which is donated. She sees using her talents as part of her duty as a Christian.

“It’s a work of mercy,” she said. “I always just pray whoever is wearing these masks, I hope they will wear them in good health.”

Despite the fact that she can’t attend Mass in person these days, she maintains her prayer life and connection to her church as best she can. Having considered the vocation to religious life as a young woman, she lived with a congregation of sisters for two years before discerning that it wasn’t her calling. Her life experience has taught her to keep her faith, even in tough times. She believes the pandemic will be with us for a while. She hopes the current challenges the world is facing will lead more people to develop a relationship with the Lord.

“I think what we really need to focus on is let’s get back to God,” she said.

 Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids is still accepting donations of masks and other personal protective equipment. For information on donating or volunteering, email Shimek at jshimek@mercycare.org.

Cover image: Alice Tritle, a member of St. Jude Parish in Cedar Rapids is shown above posing with some of the masks she has made. Since March, she has sewn over 1,000 masks, many of which are being used at a local Catholic hospital. (Contributed photo)