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Fonner: finding purpose in loss of great grandmother

Photo: Kathy Wright Kathy Wright (left) was a recent recipient of one of Makayla Fonner’s Breast Cancer Blankets.

By Tony Hooker
In the strange world we’re currently living in, it’s easy to think the worst.  The worst of a situation.  The worst of a generation.  The worst of everything.  

And then, sometimes something amazing happens.  Sometimes you meet someone whose shine is so strong that it makes you rethink your doubt and cynicism.  Makayla Fonner, a junior at VGHS, is one of those people.  I recently had a chance to sit down with the 16-year-old to talk about a project that she’s undertaken that is near and dear to her heart, and to talk about many other things in her busy life.

Where do you go to high school?

I’m going to be a junior at Villa Grove.  

You’re sixteen, right?  Just got your driver’s license?  How’s that feel?

It feels great! <laughs>  

You were recently in the Miss Villa Grove pageant.  How did that come about?

I started thinking about it last year, when one of my good friends, Samantha Stevens, won.  She really talked me into it, she and Darci Clabaugh.  Darci told me at MODO (miss Moultrie-Douglas county fair) that I would be a good candidate, so I just got up there and did my best and I was named first runner up.

What was that experience like for you?

It was really good!  I felt confident in my own skin and I made friends and talked to people that I hadn’t spoken with before.

So if someone is thinking about participating in the Miss Villa Grove pageant, what would you say to them?

I would tell them to get up on that stage and shine! <smiles>

What other activities are you involved in at school?

I was in FFA, but it didn’t turn out for me like it does for others, which is ok.  I’m in the writer’s club with Mr. Kestner, one of my favorite teachers at Villa Grove. I did cheer my freshman year, but I’m focused on my academics, and I did make high honors last year.

You have two more years of high school left. Have you started thinking about the future?

Yes I have.  I would like to be a sonographer and work in a hospital. There is a sonography school near Carbondale, there’s one in Chicago and one in Tennessee.  I would like to attend one of those.

How long have you been making the blankets for breast cancer survivors?

Since the summer before my sophomore year.

How did that all come to be?  What got you started on that?

I was sitting around one day, feeling pretty sad, thinking about my great-grandma Riddle and I decided that I wanted to do something to help out others to bring memories of her, and I decided to make blankets for local women around here.  My first blanket went to my stepdad’s mom, my grandma Gay Ziemer, and she thought maybe I should make more for other people to see how they like them, and it’s brought everyone to tears.  

I’ll bet.  Do you sew these blankets by hand?

We buy them in bulk and then I hand cut them to two yards each and then I hand tie them.

How long have you been sewing and doing things like this?

Really just since I started this project.  

Really?  Because they’re beautiful and look like you’ve been doing it for years.

No, this is my first time doing this.

Who’s been your biggest supporter in this?

My grandma Malea, for sure. 

Is there a way for someone to help you out with this project?

I’ve had people help me out.  One of my grandma’s friends, Pam De Ley, gave me $100 to buy materials, but I had already bought all the material I needed, so I donated the money to the Mills Breast Cancer center.

Do you have any favorite blankets that you’ve made?

When I first started, the only material that the fabric store had was plain white, with pink cancer ribbons, and that’s what I started on.  After that, I found pink material with white ribbons that we order online.  Right now, some are white, and some are pink material. It really just depends on what we have.

Do you have a favorite material?

I love the pink material.  

How long do you think you’re going to keep doing this project?

I think I’m done for a while, as of right now. <smiles> I might start back up again in October, unless someone really has a need for one.  

How many blankets have you made?

I think we’re up to thirty now. I have two of them in the car for your friends who had breast cancer as well.  

Thirty?  That’s amazing!

There’s a special note in there for each of them.

Do you think that you’re going to keep doing this as you move on?

Yes I really hope to.  I would like to work as a sonographer in the breast cancer unit of a hospital someday. 

It’s amazing how you took the tragedy of your great grandmother’s passing and turned it into a way to do good works for others, and to make it part of your life’s work. Is there anything you would like to add?

I would really like to work with the “Fight Like a Blue Devil” project at the school in some way.  I would like to do something like donate some blankets to them or something.  I would like to be a part of that in any way possible.

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