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Alumna finds purpose, community, in mask making

Alumni Feb 17, 2021
A woman works at a sewing machine
A woman works at a sewing machine

KOKOMO, Ind. — A global pandemic forged connections in her new community for Carol Leakey — and gave her a renewed purpose as a mask maker.

Since March, she has made and given away more than 700 masks to friends, school cafeteria workers giving free meals to children, an oncology center in Texas, and even a friend in the Netherlands, among others.

“I’ve always loved sewing, and I thought this is something I can do, a little way I can help,” said Leakey, who earned her education degree from Indiana University Kokomo in 1989. “It made me feel good that people come to me, because I have something I can do to help them.”

Leakey moved from her hometown of Kokomo to Seymour in 2016, after retiring from her teaching job at Sycamore Elementary. While she and her husband Mark looked forward to living closer to one of their daughters and her family, she found it hard to leave behind her job and her community.

“I thought, ‘What have I done?’” said Leakey. “I really felt like I had lost my identity. For 26 years, I was Mrs. Leakey, fourth grade teacher. It was really hard that first year.”

She found happiness as a substitute teacher, and with a part-time job at a boutique. But when the COVID-19 pandemic began, she gave both of those up, not wanting to take the chance of becoming ill.

One day, while browsing online, she found a website for Deaconess Health System, based in Evansville, and read that fabric face masks were greatly needed there.

“I thought this is a way I can help, even though I’m not a doctor,” she said. “I’ve been sewing pretty much my whole life. I can’t teach right now, I can’t work, but I can sew.”

Leakey’s mother taught her to sew, and she honed her skills in home economics classes and in 4-H. During the years she was raising her three daughters, she sewed matching Easter dresses for the girls and herself, and fondly recalled a leisure suit she sewed for Mark in the 70s.

She began her first masks with a simple pattern she found online, and started giving them away. Soon after she started, a school nurse contacted her, asking if she could make 50 masks — in less than a week —  for cafeteria workers.

She put her husband to work cutting masks from fabric, while she sewed, and met the deadline. Then, she joined other sewing groups, providing masks to others in need all over the country including in Indiana, Illinois, Washington, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and even to the Netherlands.

All of the masks have been given away at no cost, except for special fabric requests.

Carol Leakey has no plans to retire her sewing machine anytime soon.

 “I love sewing and will continue to do so as long as these items are needed,” she said. “I just wish the circumstances were different.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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