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02) Mary Alma McAlister

 Dr Mary Alma McAlister is a medical hero.  Those who have preserved through medical maladies often fight their
 own private battles and thus deserved to be recognized as an unsung hero.
  Dr Mary Alma McAlister is such a person. 


"Pandora's Garden"
Jim Sanders and Larry Stephens
recognize Dr McAlister (Class '60) 

Clyde Dover welcomes acclaimed quilter, fellow class member Mary Alma McAlister to the recent Walhalla High's fiftieth class reunion                            Mary Alma McAlister explains the details of  an award winning quilt to Walhalla High fellow Class of '60 members

                                                                                                         Clyde Dover welcomes acclaimed                            "Walking Goofy Girl"
                                                                                                         quilter and fellow class member
                                                                                                                  Mary Alma Mclister
                                                                                                          to the recent Walhalla High's
                                                                                                                 fiftieh class reunion

Quality Quilter Hails from Upstate


         Though scattered across ten states, members of Walhalla High School Class of 1960 attended their fiftieth reunion in May.  Happy to reunite and share life experiences, they came eager to see each other, some for the first time since graduation.  One class member is Dr Mary Alma McAlister.  Mary Alma states she prefers being referred to as Mary Alma so  we will defer to her request except where it is not appropriate. 

Walhalla High School had prepared Mary Alma for highest honors at Virginia Tech, followed by a Masters and Doctorate in History at the University of Missouri.  Also an accomplished poet and creative writer, Mary Alma has, through the years, tackled many projects - creating jewelry, container gardening, and volunteer work in many organizations.  By far the one to bring her the most satisfaction is quilting. On a whim in 1993 while she was grocery shopping, Mary Alma noticed the cover of a quilting magazine.   Interest peaked and she entered herself in the North Carolina Quilting Symposium held that year in Fayetteville. The requirement was the presentation of an original handmade quilt depicting a theme to complement the overall theme of the symposium, “If Quilts Could Talk.”

Undaunted by the fact that she had never quilted before, but with her usual “I can do that ” attitude, Mary Alma gathered her materials and created  Pandora’s Garden, which told the story of her pet poodle Pandora and their experiences in gardening, from sowing the seeds to harvesting the bounty. First she drew to scale on paper each quilt square, then appliquéd the pattern on fabric.  Using a wide variety of items for special effects: yarn, sequins, beads, brads - anything to enhance the theme,  Mary Alma took her very first quilt to the Symposium which was sponsored by Good Housekeeping, Land’s End, and the American Folk Life Center of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. ….and won overall first place!

 From over 25,000 entries, one quilt was chosen to represent each of the 50 states, and Pandora’s Garden won for South Carolina.  Her winning quilt was displayed for one year in the Folk Life Center of the Library of Congress. When asked why she captured the top award, Mary Alma quipped, “I think perhaps by the time the judges finally got to the SC quilt, they were weary of the ‘drama’ quilts- those depicting serious themes …mine was light, fun, and a real life experience.”  She has many ribbons and awards but hides them away, explaining, “After all, they just represent one judge’s opinion on one particular day.”  She also adds, “I think it is a huge joke that an absolutely horrible housekeeper like me ever had anything in Good Housekeeping!”

Since Pandora’s Garden, Mary Alma has created over 300 quilts with

themes including Rocky Mountain High, Love Can Build a Bridge, Trees, Self Portrait, and Batik Print.  She has created special quilts for relatives, South Carolina Victims Assistance Network, Ronald McDonald, and the Red Cross. Smaller versions of her quilts cover the isolettes in the neonatal intensive care units at Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia and Baptist Hospitals in North and South Carolina. Another project has been crocheting hats and neck warmers for the cancer unit at the VA Hospital.  Two current endeavors are the Bedding Project, which donates bedding made from leftover material scraps to animal shelters, and the Pillowcase Project, which creates and donates original pillowcases to shelters for abused children, battered women, and crime and disaster victims.

          Mary Alma is quick to credit her apartment complex Avalon Place for providing a large room to store her fabric and supplies.  She also credits several manufacturers who generously give her discontinued fabric for her many charity projects.

          Local Oconee residents may remember Mary Alma’s parents, the late D.D. and Mary McAlister, and her brother David.   Mary Alma’s father was employed at Kenneth Mill and designed the textiles made there, mainly bedspreads.  She recalls her dad always carried squares of graph paper with him wherever he went because he was inspired by nature and captured many ideas for his designs there.  Her mother taught at Walhalla High.  Residing in Charlotte, Mary Alma's brother David still has the drawing board his father used for designing textiles.

           While in Walhalla for the class reunion, Mary Alma ventured to the site of the old Kenneth Mill.  She found only the steps left in the rubble that was once her father’s workplace but rekindled many memories. The McAlister family attended St. Luke Methodist Church.  Dr Mary Alma McAlister, a proud cancer survivor, lives with her dog Artemis in Columbia.  Future quilting projects include stitching several sites in Oconee County.