Recently, Rock County Farm Bureau member Ronna Morton-Ballmer finished a Farm Bureau-themed quilt that will adorn the WFBF office.
About a year ago, Ronna was contacted to see if she would be interested in taking on the project for the Farm Bureau.
“It’s really been a pleasure to have this project entrusted in my hands,” said Ronna, who has invested “somewhere between 50 and 100 hours into the quilt. I’ve worked on it, off and on, for more than six months.”
Ronna uses combinations of color, texture and design, which were the basics of the home furnishings project area that she excelled in as a 4-H member and in 1976, attended the National 4-H Congress representing the area of home management.
“I love to create and personalize each quilt–no two are alike,” added Ronna. “I try to incorporate as many little things that will catch someone’s eye and draw them into the quilt, using fabrics and patterns that tie into the theme and interests of the person, or group in this case.”
Ronna added that she doesn’t follow a pattern and that she enjoys seeing the completed project come together.
“With quilts, you start small, with many unique pieces,” said Ronna. “As the quilt comes together, larger pieces are formed and you see progress. It’s so rewarding to see it come together in the end, a work of art.”
As far as selecting the fabric for the Farm Bureau quilt, she knew the Farm Bureau colors were red, white and black so she started searching for farm-themed fabrics that were in that color scheme.
“When I couldn’t find official Farm Bureau fabric, I opted to center the quilt on agricultural products and themes that pertained to our beautiful and diverse state,” explained Ronna. “I incorporated different products into the quilt, i.e., cows, pigs, chickens, barns, windmills, tractors, milk cans, eggs and crops, but I needed to stay within the color scheme, so it wasn’t easy.”
She added a bandana print, woodgrain and other textures and found a red, black, gray and white panel print and coordinating tile-print fabric at Twin Turtle Quilts in Clinton with words and phrases that reflected the ‘down-to-earth,’ family-based, heart-of-the-home feel.
“My hope was that it would draw people into the quilt and that they would connect with the rural roots and family feel of the Farm Bureau organization,” said Ronna and added that selecting just the right fabric is, “right up my alley.”
She cut the panel print and used it to center the quilt and added a Farm Bureau t-shirt from her daughter’s collection. She also added a centennial square to acknowledge Farm Bureau’s 100-year mark.
“It’s been a pleasure to work on this project and I hope that the quilt will provide a backdrop and conversation piece at the Farm Bureau office once it reopens,” said Ronna.
Sassy Farm Chicks in Orfordville, owned by two farm ladies, Rhonda Streich and Tina Wellnitz, used a computerized long-arm quilter to add a farm-themed design with corn, tractors and cows once Ronna finished piecing the top.
After it was quilted, she added the rod pocket and binding.
Growing up on a dairy and crop farm southeast of Janesville, Ronna was a member of 4-H and FFA. She graduated from Clinton High School and attended UW-Madison and graduated from Farm & Industry Short Course. She later returned to UW-Madison, UW-Rock County and then earned her bachelor’s degree from UW-Whitewater. For 25 years, Ronna was a sales manager for Tupperware, leading one of the top teams in the nation. She has served as a 4-H project leader for nearly three decades and serves as a judge at many fairs throughout Wisconsin and serves on the Rock County 4-H Fair Board. Ronna also is a substitute teacher for four school districts.
She said that her mom taught her how to sew on a Pfaff sewing machine, which she still has, but no longer uses.
“I had several 4-H sewing leaders but started quilting on my own in 4-H home furnishings and made at least four quilts in the 1970s,” recalls Ronna. “The first ones were very basic, but my bi-centennial quilt that I made during my last year of 4-H received a blue ribbon at the Rock County 4-H Fair and the Wisconsin State Fair.”
In the 1970s, Ronna also started making denim quilts and her three children have also made quilts from their old blue jeans and t-shirts. She has made dozens of t-shirt memory quilts.
“Now, I teach 4-Hers how to quilt,” said Ronna. “Each year, my 4-H home environment project members make a quilted project for our club’s annual fundraiser and spaghetti dinner.”
Her hobbies include quilting, sewing, baking, attending UW-Platteville Pioneer football games, and rooting for the Wisconsin Badgers and the Green Bay Packers. Occasionally, you can spot her driving a Morton Farmall tractor through a parade.
“I’m usually on the 1970 Gold Demonstrator 826 that I used to cultivate with in the 1970s and 1980s before my dad restored it and retired it from field use,” added Ronna, who is a widow and mother of three young adult children: Erica, 26, Ciera, 23, and Kenny, 20.
In 2011, Ronna started painting barn quilts and has painted hundreds, including several displayed on the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds.
“My kids also have painted barn quilts,” added Ronna. “We’ve taught the process to others, especially 4-H and FFA youth.”
During the pandemic, Ronna has made thousands of three- and two-layered masks with ties and recently, she made more than 200 cloth instrument covers for the Clinton High School and Middle School bands.
Ronna serves as a deacon for Emerald Grove Church, is president of the Emerald Grove Cemetery Auxiliary and she serves as a chaperone for youth events including band trips to Florida and Washington, D.C., Wisconsin State Fair youth dorms, 4-H camps, FFA conventions, school trips and others.
Her three kids have earned their American FFA Degrees and in 1992, Ronna served as president of the Wisconsin FFA Alumni. In 2017-2018, her daughter, Ciera, served as the Wisconsin State FFA President. She teaches family and consumer education at Janesville Parker High School. Daughter Erica works for Rhea + Kaiser, an advertising agency in Naperville, Illinois, that serves primarily agriculture-related clients. Son Kenny is a junior at UW-Platteville with a double-major in agricultural education and technical education. He is a varsity letterman on the UW-Pioneer football team.
“As you can tell, we’re a deeply-rooted agricultural family,” said Ronna proudly.
Story by Marian Viney. Originally appeared in the December|January 2020-2021 Rural Route.
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