LITTLE CHUTE — If you want to know the key to living to be 100 years old, Ginnie Couillard is the person to ask. “I’m always real positive, I’m always looking ahead and I never think of being old,” said Couillard. “And, I keep busy.”
Couillard has been doing that her whole life.
Born and raised in Kaukauna, she has lived in Little Chute for 25 years. “I met my husband Ambrose on a blind date,” she said. “He served in the Pacific during World War II and he came home from the service on Sept. 5, 1945, and we were married 10 days later.”
During his time in the service, Couillard’s husband contracted malaria, which gave him health issues the rest of his life. He passed away in January 2005, just several months short of their 60th wedding anniversary. The Couillards have five children: two daughters and three sons. She has 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Couillard was a full-time mom while her children were young and her husband worked as a millwright at the Kimberly-Clark plant in Kimberly. When the kids got older, she worked part time. For 19 years, she taught sewing classes at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton. She learned to sew when she was in elementary school.
Those classes not only benefitted Couillard, but countless other people in her lifetime. “When we celebrated my 90th birthday, there were about 200 people there. My daughter said, ‘If anyone has any connection to my mom’s sewing, stand up.’ I looked around and I thought, ‘My gosh, almost everyone was standing.’ You’d hem a skirt here, hem a skirt there.”
For years, Couillard used her sewing skills to create items for the gift shop at St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna. These days, Couillard uses her talent to benefit Mother & Unborn Baby Care/Vida Medical Clinic in Appleton. She makes baby quilts that clients can “purchase” through their Earn While You Learn program. It’s her way of helping women who are in crisis pregnancies.
“Years ago, I belonged to a Bible study and they wanted me to march in front of the abortion clinic and pray. I said, ‘Let’s do something for the girls instead. They need a good start,’” said Couillard. “With all the sewing I’ve done through the years, I had a lot of fabric around. My husband … helped me do that for many, many years.”
Since Couillard still drives, she will be dropping off another batch of quilts at the clinic soon. Seeing that she gets around well, Couillard still has her quilting area set up in her basement. Over the years, she purchased the fabric for the quilts using money out of her own pocket. These days, people know about her cause and donate fabric to her. “Right now, I have a lot on hand but the other day I picked up $50 of colors again that I needed,” she noted.
Recently, Couillard scaled back from crib-sized quilts to smaller ones. “This is the first year that I made the little quilts because I can’t stand around the quilt frame,” she said.
Couillard has added another handcrafted item to her list to donate. She knits baby booties that are given to the newly baptized babies at St. John’s. “It keeps my hands limber because it’s hard for me to hold a needle. These hands are so numb.”
Before she can tie a quilt now, she needs to soak her hands in hot water. After that, she’s able to tie half of a small quilt.
Couillard gives back to her friends, neighbors and a family that she and her husband became adoptive grandparents to 32 years ago. She not only sews for them, but cooks. “I love to cook,” she said, adding that she has friends over for meals on a regular basis.
In January, Couillard attended Women Celebrate, a Catholic women’s weekend retreat, for the first time. She was honored at the event for being the oldest woman in attendance. “I loved it. I like the openness, it’s so down to earth. And the people at the hotel treated you well. I plan to go next year again,” she said.
It’s been a wonderful life, Couillard said. “To live to my age, to be in this good of health, I feel I have to give back a lot,” she said. “I’m so blessed. I feel the Lord is with me all the time. I really do. I have a lot of trust in God and that has a lot to do with it.”