Tired fingers don't slow this Betsy Ross

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By Vince Luecke

Tell City flag maker shares work with volunteers, doctors

Diane Dickinson's fingers don't work as well as they used to. The effects of a stroke suffered more than a decade ago limit the movement of her hands and a fall that fractured a wrist didn't help. And then there's the arthritis. Yet all that doesn't stop the Navy veteran from creating handmade U.S. flags she presents to friends and local veterans.

"I haven't made that many yet, maybe just five or six of the big ones, but I enjoy giving them to people who've helped me and others," the local Betsy Ross said during an interview in the living room of her Tell City home.

Dickinson makes small, medium and large-sized flags from plastic canvas - a thin plastic grid of square holes - found in most craft stores and colored four-ply yarn used to knit the red and white bars and blue field. She sews on the stars individually, a tedious job accomplished with a needle and thin clear thread. She places magnets on the backs of most flags, allowing them to hang proudly from refrigerators, filing cabinets and other metal surfaces.

"It's something patriotic to do, I guess. People enjoy them," she said during a show-and-tell of her flag-making.

Dickinson grew up in Tell City and joined the Navy in 1975, shortly after high school, against the wishes of her Navy-veteran father, who worried about the reputations women in the Navy were unfairly given.

She served four years, mostly working in Navy warehouses, with stints in Texas and Puerto Rico, but dodged a possible assignment in Greenland.

"A friend told me they should have named Iceland Greenland and Greenland Iceland," she quipped, happy she didn't have to endure someplace colder than the Naval Station Great Lakes she trained at in North Chicago.

After her discharge, the job market was in a downturn, so Dickinson soon reenlisted for another two years, keeping her rank and pay. Her initial enlistment date designates her a Vietnam-era veteran.

The early 1990s stroke slowed her down considerably and she returned to Tell City in 2003.

One day she noticed a small flag in a beauty shop and decided to try her hand.

"After the stroke, I needed something to do," she said. She gathered the needed supplies and set to work, tapping feelings of patriotism and a desire to be creative.

Lessons long ago from her grandmother helped and the flags didn't look bad.

Flags have also gone to volunteers who drive veterans like Dickinson to Veterans Administration facilities in the area. She's also given some to doctors and she hopes the small gestures remind the health professionals of how much they are appreciated. "They have bad days, too, and they hear complaints from patients. I hope it helps brighten their days."

Working on the flags also cuts down on snacking. "It gives my fingers something to do, so I'm not always putting food in my mouth," she says, adding she's lost 50 pounds over the past year.

Dickinson has contributed two flags to Tell City's Sesquicentennial time capsule and one of them will go into the capsule with a copy of this story. Anyone interested in Dickinson's homemade flags can call her at 548-0067.