Eighty-year-old Jimmie Deel Sr. has knit nearly 300 hats in the last three years, all of which he has donated to charity.
Thread by thread, each colorful knit-hat takes nearly three hours to pull together. Even when Deel struggled with Dupuytren’s Contracture syndrome, a condition that gave him a severely contracted hand and made the task painful, he never gave up on his hobby.
Luckily, Deel was able to have his hand fixed last Thanksgiving, and since, knitting has become much easier for him. He said sometimes he makes one hat a day, and sometimes two. He also knits scarves, but said they take much more time to complete. Mounds of the hats occupy a room in his home, ready to be given away.
Deel said he donates some of the hats to the homeless shelter and to local churches, but his favorite place to donate is to elementary schools and daycare centers, in order to help children who may otherwise receive few Christmas gifts. Soon, he also hopes to donate his hats to a Roanoke cancer center.
“We’ve sent a whole bunch to St. Jude, too,” said his daughter, Donna. “He’s just been giving them out everywhere. My mom knits and crochets, so it’s kind of funny that dad is knitting now.”
Though some of the yarn he uses is donated by friends and family, much of the expense has been taken out of his own pocket.
Deel is a veteran, and retired from the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center 1997, where he worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant for over 30 years. He had many jobs after that, but all had a similar theme. Whether working for a hospital or visiting people in their homes, he has always felt drawn to help others.
Originally from Grundy, he has been married to his wife Rachel for 61 years, and the two have five children. They also have 16 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, who greatly enjoy their grandfather’s hat-making handiwork.
Deel likes to stay busy, but saves hat-making for the autumn and winter months. In the summer, he can be found landscaping or gardening. Some of the plants in his yard have been been alive for nearly 40 years, a testament to his attentiveness and care.
Deel said his knitting hobby is just something he picked up.
“My oldest daughter was making things for the church, and I thought, I can do that,” Deel said. “I said I can’t donate too much money, but I can make hats.”
“It gives me something to do, and makes some kids happy,” he added, modestly