The women of a Roslyn knitting group left no loose ends when they helped finish the last project of a member who died.
Knit is a yarn store on Old Northern Boulevard that also serves as a workshop with open tables for customers to sit at and work on their projects. Pearl Orner, a Roslyn resident, frequented the store a few times a week for years to sit and make gifts for her family, said the store owner, Cheryl Lavenhar.
In January, Orner died of a heart attack at 79, and the friends she made at the store were devastated by the loss, Lavenhar said.
“She was a one of a kind,” said a Knit employee, Nancy Romagna. “She was smart, witty and beautiful.”
Three of her friends from the store attended the funeral, including Lavenhar, and there they saw how much she gave to her family.
“Every one of her grandchildren was wearing something that she made them, whether it was a hat or a scarf,” she said. “All of her grandchildren got up and spoke. It was really a celebration of her life.”
But one grandchild, Alexa, was missing something from Orner, an Afghan blanket she was making for her before she left to attend Washington University.
Lavenhar offered to finish the blanket before she left for school with some help from the store regulars.
“A week later her daughter brought in all of [Pearl’s] knitting bags, and we were sorting through, and there was the blanket,” Lavenhar said.
To her surprise, Orner had only completed about an inch of the blanket before she died, so she had a long road ahead before she would finish. Between running the store and other responsibilities, it would take time to complete, but Lavenhar said she knew it was the right thing to do.
“[Pearl] would’ve finished someone else’s blanket,” she said. “If somebody wanted something, she would say, ‘Come in, pick out the yarn, I’ll make it for you.’ She definitely would’ve finished it for me, no doubt.”
Lavenhar took on the majority of the work so the tension of the blanket would remain consistent, while other knitters helped with finishing touches, she said.
Friends from the store said they remember Orner as a woman with a big personality and a big heart.
“There’s not many people Cheryl would’ve put in hours of work for,” Romagna said. “It was really a labor of love.”
Lavenhar started bonding with Orner during their trips to a knitting retreat in Hartford, Connecticut. Orner had family in the area, so Lavenhar offered to take her along for the trip.
“You’re driving back and forth with someone for two and a half hours in a car, you get to really know somebody,” she said.
Lavenhar knew her as woman who experienced some difficulty in her life, but didn’t let that get her down, she said.
“Despite having had a difficult life she was very people-friendly, very personable,” Lavenhar said. “When she should’ve had her husband to do things with and enjoy retirement, he passed away. She just picked up and went on. She was a happy person.”
Her husband Harvey, whom Lavenhar described as “the love of Pearl’s life,” died of a heart attack over a decade ago.
The knitters looked out for Orner as their friendship grew, like the time when she was recovering from a fall, Lavenhar said.
“I think it was her pelvic bone that broke. She wound up in rehab, and we all took turns going to visit her. So everybody here kind of took care of her,” she said.
In addition to Orner’s interest in knitting, she was an avid reader, Lavenhar said. The Bryant Library made a tribute display for her after she died because of her involvement with the library.
Finally, Lavenhar finished the blanket for Orner’s granddaughter this month, in the pattern of Washington University colors Orner had started.
When Alexa, and her mother, Suzie, Orner’s daughter, came to pick up the blanket at the store, Alexa’s reaction was described as “touching” by Sandra Foley, a knitter and friend of Orner.
“She was crying, and it was just a wonderful thing,” she said.
“It was all worth it when Alexa wrapped herself in it,” Lavenhar said. “It was emotional.”
Orner is still mentioned when the knitters sit around the table working on their hats, gloves and blankets, Lavenhar said.
“There are days we’ll come and we’ll still be like, ‘Oh yeah, that would be Pearl,’” she said. “Nobody’s forgotten her.”