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Basket case

  • Published
  • By SSgt Tonnette Thompson
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
For her first 15 years in the military, her hands bandaged bloody wounds, changed soiled bedsheets, administered medicine and soothed worried brows.

Over the next 15 years, they shuffled evaluation reports across desks, and eventually signed off on paperwork that reduced medical group personnel at several Air Force bases.

Today, those hands, retired in 2002 from nursing and command duties, have found another way to keep themselves limber - basket weaving.

Sue Yingling, a retired Air Force colonel, has turned a hobby into a resource for learning and entertainment at Sheppard. When she isn't twining sturdy reeds of rattan core into intricate two- and three-dimensional designs - from snowflakes and miniature scarecrows to Christmas sleighs and angel-shaped lamps - she conducts classes in this craft at the Sheppard Community Activity Center.

Mrs. Yingling began her Air Force career in 1972 as a Nurse Corps officer. Over the next 30 years, her work took her to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Bitburg AB, Germany, and various bases in Texas, California and Ohio. In that time, she served as a staff nurse, charge nurse, instructor, supervisor of inpatient services, chief nurse executive and finally a medical group commander, overseeing several Base Realignment and Closure operations. But it wasn't until late in her career that her latent weaving talent began to bloom.

Mrs. Yingling began taking basket weaving classes in the late 1990's on an occasional basis while visiting her parents in Indiana. Her attendance became regular while stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, just three hours away from the class. When at work, she practiced her craft by weaving gift baskets for friends and family.

As the end of her military career drew near, Mrs. Yingling found herself drawn into her new hobby, the ultimate result a token hand-woven gift basket for each out-of-town guest at her retirement ceremony.

"They all liked them. People don't usually receive parting gifts at someone else's retirement, so for some it was also a pleasant surprise," Mrs. Yingling said.

However, it wasn't until necessity called her back home that basket weaving became an important pastime and distraction.

"From June to December of '04 my mother became ill, and I returned home to care for my parents," Mrs. Yingling said. "It was during this time my interest in weaving increased as it provided me a craft I enjoyed. I took lessons once or twice a week, and this also provided my parents time to themselves."

Mrs. Yingling began to find a second career in 2005 in basket weaving. A friend suggested she sell her weaving projects at last year's Texas State Square and Round Dancing Convention. By the time that convention had kicked off, Mrs. Yingling had also sold her product during the Sheppard Hangar Holiday, and months after that she began her own basket weaving business, Creations by Sue.

A few months after the convention, Mrs. Yingling was offered a job teaching basket weaving through a recommendation from 82nd Mission Support Group publicity specialist Dana Papp.

"I saw her work, and I knew she wanted to introduce more people to this, and I also knew Denice Tilley over at the CAC was interested in arranging some classes, so I hooked them up," said Ms. Papp.

She went on to say, "It's a great opportunity for the base to learn an unusual form of gift-giving. No machines - these are all handmade, and there are people who still appreciate that."

"I have taught monthly classes to military, spouses and civilian employees since October," Mrs. Yingling said. "The fun part is seeing the reactions on their faces when they realize they've taken this pile of reeds and shaped them into a homemade work of art, something they probably never thought they could do."

In the meantime, Mrs. Yingling, though expert enough to teach her own class and sell her wares, still occasionally sits in on those basket weaving classes in Indiana that started it all.

"I'll always be glad I started this," Mrs. Yingling said. "To this day, it's neat to see people's faces when I give them these, and they understand that I made this from my own two hands for them. They just looked awed; I never get tired of that."

Mrs. Yingling's next class session begins Feb. 5.