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The Ties of Yarn That Bind

Retired educator’s efforts to help her dad grows into help for others

By Janet Rivera Mednik


When the fabric of life begins to unravel, the tools to stitch it back together can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places. For Ken Kresge, father of a retired Montgomery County (MD) Education Association (MCEA)-represented elementary school teacher, a knitting machine purchased decades earlier for his wife not only helped him cope with her passing, it also—with the help of his daughter—led to a passionate effort to create and donate hundreds of hats and scarves to disadvantaged men, women, and children in his community.

“When my dad came to live with me a few years after my mom died, I knew that he needed to do more than crossword puzzles and television viewing,” explains Lori Rolston, a former fourth-grade teacher who retired in 2013, the same year that her dad moved in.

“A love of needlecrafts was something that my mom and I shared, so I thought that Dad might enjoy it as well. We set up the knitting machine in the basement, stocked up on yarn, and encouraged him to give knitting a try.

Soon, he was working daily on the machine, with his loyal dog, Minnie, beside him. His room became filled with skeins of yarn and bags of completed projects.”

Despite his daily work and generous supply of knits, Kresge can’t possibly keep up with the demand for his products. Homeless men, senior citizens, struggling families—even his granddaughter’s kindergarten students at a local Title I elementary school in Maryland have donned his handiwork. Knowing he is helping others keeps Kresge committed to his newfound craft.

“I like what I’m doing,” explains Kresge. “There is a need out there that I can help address. Plus, it keeps me off the streets,” he jokes.

Indeed, Kresge’s commitment to his charitable work is so strong that even an injury to his rotator cuff couldn’t force Kresge to take a break from his knitting machine. Instead, the former chemical engineer installed a motor to the device, which allowed him to increase the efficiency of his work, and avoid further damage to his shoulder.

“He’s even mentioned wanting to get a second knitting machine, so he can double his donations,” his daughter says. Since retiring, Rolston spends time teaching others (besides her dad) various needlecrafts. She also volunteers weekly in the kindergarten classroom of her daughter, who is a member of MCEA.

In addition to his daughter, a growing number of knitters support Kresge’s efforts, by providing him with yarn donations—entire skeins and remnants of past projects. These knitters know Kresge and his motorized knitting machine can produce far more items for charity than one knitter wielding a single pair of needles.

Says Rolston, “Now that we’re both retired, it’s nice that my dad and I have a shared passion. I enjoy helping him learn about yarns and coordinating his donations. I am proud of what he is accomplishing and honored to be a part of it.”

Bridge Building Role Model

By Nicholas Sella


Mike Dishnow retired from teaching in 2001 after a 35-year career. During that time, he was a guidance counselor and later a school principal in Alaska and Wisconsin.

But retirement hasn’t slowed Dishnow down. Today, he works with the global organization, My Culture Connect, building educational bridges between schools in Wisconsin and Taiwan.

The connection between the two locations began when Lee Becwar, who works with Mike’s wife Diane, asked if the retired educator would help Taiwanese students learn English via weekly Skype sessions. Dishnow, 71, decided he wanted to do more. “I enjoyed the Skype sessions very much,” he says, “and concluded I wanted to meet the Taiwanese people that I was working with.”

He took his first trip to Taiwan in March 2012, and again in November 2013. He returned in late October 2014 with plans to visit 30 schools during his 30-day stay. Ultimately, Dishnow hopes to build relationships within U.S. schools, and find additional volunteers to Skype with the Taiwanese students.

“I often [work] with students who have never met a [foreigner] face to face, nor had the opportunity to hear a native English speaker speak,” he says. “There is not only English education, but cultural exchanges and interpersonal relationships are being established and fostered.”

But his most important contribution, Mike says, “is being a role model for bilingual education and cultural exchanges.” 


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