Red Wing resident Ruthe Exner has taken her farm-raised work ethic and combined her connection to the local Mayo Clinic Health System Hospice to create a touching tradition.

Since March of 2012, residents admitted to hospice care have received a handmade tied “comfort blanket” compliments of Exner.

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In just over two years, she has donated more than 500 blankets with around 70 currently ready to be delivered.

It was in March of 2012 that Exner lost her husband, Harry, to complications following a heart surgery.

“I just had to do something,” Exner said about the loss. “I’m a farm girl. All my life I’ve worked.” 

She and Harry owned Johnson Tire in Red Wing from 1960 until 2010 when their son Bob took over management. The company has been in the family for 54 years.

Along with Bob, the couple’s children include Cathleen Novak, Gean Mobroten, Cindy Betcher, Scott Exner and Marsha, whom the family lost to a brain aneurism.

Comforting the patients

Harry Exner spent one month in the hospice care, and his wife  said - despite the health circumstances - he had a very good experience.

“They treated him so well,” she said.

Following his death, Exner’s mind turned to the care received at hospice.

“The memorials came in, and I decided I was going to do something to give back to the patients,” Exner said.

And following some encouragement from her granddaughter, who is a hospice nurse, Exner went out to purchase material for her first of many comfort blankets.

“I can do about a blanket a day,” she said. “I have done as many as three in one day.”

A printed fabric material is attached to a solid color base and then cut and tied to create the cozy comfort blankets that are safe to put in the washing machine and dryer.

“I’ve gone through a lot of scissors,” she said

Exner also is handy at the sewing machine and with crochet and knitting needles. Her creative ability is also seen in several paintings displayed in her home.

She said that hospice workers enjoy seeing her new donations, and she has heard stories of the blankets touching lives beyond just the patients.

In one such story, a young mother who had recently lost her father was able to use Exner’s comfort blanket at her baby’s baptism as a meaningful symbol that special day.

“I have had so many compliments and people wanting them,” Exner said. 

Her blankets are also available for purchase. The regular printed blankets are $20 and the sports blankets (Minnesota Wild, Twins, Gophers) are $35 to $40 due to the higher cost of the fabric.

“I take that money and use it to buy more fabric, more supplies,” she said. “It goes back into the blankets.”

And the comfort cycle continues.