When two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon last Monday, Marquette psychology department administrative assistant Trish Johnson and her daughter Bree watched the news with the same horror as the rest of the country. They were especially struck, however, by the story of seven-year-old Jane Richard.
Jane had gone to Boston to watch the city’s annual marathon with her parents and two brothers. She loved Irish dancing and for the past few years had been taking lessons at the Clifden Academy in nearby Milton. But at 2:49 p.m., everything changed. Not only did Jane lose her leg in the marathon’s fatal bombing, she lost her brother, eight-year-old Martin. Her mother, Denise, suffered serious head trauma and underwent brain surgery.
As Irish dancers themselves, the Johnsons wanted to show the young girl the love of their shared community.
“My daughter Bree has been dancing competitively for 16 years,” Trish Johnson said. “So it really hit home. They showed the cute little girl, and you sit there and you’re so helpless.”
The Johnsons decided to stitch Jane a quilt made up of T-shirts from various Irish dance schools. They received their first T-shirt last Wednesday from their Irish dance studio, Glencastle in Milwaukee.
Their original goal was to collect about 20 or 30 shirts to make a single quilt, but once Irish dance schools around the country got word of the project, the shirts did not stop coming.
“Monday we went home, and the mailman had to bring all our packages to our backyard, because we had 75 in one day,” Trish Johnson said.
As of yesterday, the “Wrapping Jane in Our Love” Facebook page had almost 8,000 likes and 352,000 mentions. Since beginning their project, the Johnsons have received 459 shirts from Irish dance schools from around the world, so many that they will now likely make multiple quilts.
“This is isn’t about us,” Trish Johnson said. “My daughter and I are just the vehicle transporting all this love. It was our idea, but we couldn’t do it without anyone else.”
Some of the country’s top Irish dancers have also tapped in their support. Drew Lovejoy, who won the national championship in Boston this March, donated his gold medal to be put on the center of one of the quilts.
Bree Johnson said the feedback she and her mother received from the community has been overwhelming.
“It’s a small community, us Irish dancers,” she said. “So to see so many schools come together like this, it’s more than we can even take in.”
“If you go to any of these competitions, you feel the competitiveness,” Trish Johnson added. “But rarely do people see that when you flip the page after the competition, the compassion is amazing. If these schools could line up and hug this child, they would do it. The love and compassion we have for one another in Irish dance makes it a tight knit community.”
The Johnsons will travel to Boston at the end of May to stitch the quilts.
“I have a friend, Kathy Hatfield, in Boston who makes quilts, and I can’t thank her enough,” Trish Johnson said. “She has a team of quilt makers, and we’ll make a few quilts and then deliver them to the dance school.”
The Johnsons said in a post on their Facebook page that they made the decision to accept donations as well as shirts to help construct the quilt, with the remainder going to the Richard family’s recovery fund.
Because of Jane’s delicate condition, the Johnsons have decided to let her dance academy present the quilts when they feel it is best.