Local woman sews masks for veterans

Torry Hemmert, also a veteran herself, has made more than 200 masks for veterans across the nation.

Torry Hemmert says her two favorite things are reading and sewing. A few months ago when masks were in short supply, she began sewing masks for close friends and family.

The need kept growing, so Hemmert kept sewing.

In the last few months, the local resident has made and donated hundreds of masks to veterans across the country. Hemmert says she stopped counting once she reached 200.

“I have a place in my heart for veterans, being one myself and being married to one,” she said. Her husband, Steve, is a Vietnam War veteran.

Hemmert enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps two days after her graduation in 1969 from Lincoln High School in Tacoma.

After attending basic training in Alabama, Hemmert was sent to Fort Houston in Texas for Advanced Individual Training (AIT for short), and was then stationed in Fort Dix, New Jersey, before becoming a chaplain’s assistant. In the 1970s, she said, women weren’t allowed to hold that military occupational specialties title, so instead she was considered a clerical specialist when she left the Army in 1971.

For Hemmert, she decided to donate masks to veterans when she realized there may be people out there who don’t have anyone to sew for them.

“When you see a need, it’s a responsibility to do what you can,” she said. “And there was a need.”

Fulfilling the need also allows Hemmert to show her utmost respect for those who have served, whether it be a family member, friend, or even a stranger on the receiving end of her creations.

Many of the masks she makes for veterans are with fabric representing the different branches. Hemmert and her husband don Army masks. She made two of her relatives’ Marine Corps and Coast Guard masks, and sent a Navy mask to her daughter’s friend who served.

To distribute, Hemmert first made connections through a veterans group her husband is a part of, and then reached veterans through the Veterans Center in Federal Way. Her masks have been distributed to people in California, Florida, New York, Illinois, South Carolina and North Carolina.

For a while in the spring when her mask making began, fabric stores weren’t open. However, Hemmert was well prepared with heaps of extra fabric finding new and good use.

The sewing genes are strong in her family, Hemmert said — her mother, grandmother and sisters are talented with the needle, thread and fabric.

The Tacoma native is a retired substitute teacher. After the Army, she graduated from college exactly 30 years and one day after her high school graduation. She earned both her bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate from the University of Washington Tacoma.

She is still making masks, although slowing down in order to get her Christmas sewing complete. During the holidays, she makes ornaments, along with other gifts and custom pajama bottoms for her loved ones.

“That’s my sanity,” she said. “That’s what I love to do — reading and sewing, those are my favorite pastimes.”