Baby Boomer Woman Ami Simms

by Anne Holmes on January 5, 2011

Welcome to NABBW member, nationally-recognized quilting instructor, and fund-raiser extraordinaire, Ami Simms. As a fund-raiser, Ami (Note: her name is pronounced “AH-Mee” and rhymes with salami) used her quiltmaking skills to enlist the help of quilters across the United States to use their hobby to raise awareness and fund research.

“I don’t know how to cure disease, but I do know how to quilt. I have a voice in the quilting community and I thought this was the time to open my mouth,” she says.

At the time Ami started the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI), her mother, Beebe, pictured with her below, had just moved into an Alzheimer’s facility and was in the midst of a 7-year struggle with Alzheimer’s which she has since lost.

Her mother’s illness spurred Ami’s desire to find a cure. With the help of the quilting community, she has created two traveling quilt exhibits about Alzheimers and received more than 6,100 donated quilts which the AAQI auctions or sells online.

The AAQI quilt auctions are held monthly, during the first ten days of the month, and to date the AAQI has raised nearly $500,000 for research and has awarded six grants, including one for research conducted by University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute.

Promising results from this research was recently published online in the research journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. An article about the U of M research is published on the AAQI’s website, where you can also see – and follow a link to bid on — images of the quilts in the current online auction. Or, you can also use the site to make a donation. (Note: the quilt images pictured here are from the January 2011 auction.)

Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself?

Ami Simms with her mother, Beebe Moss

I am a professional quiltmaker and travel around the country giving workshops and lectures.

I’ve written nine books, numerous patterns, and designed two lines of fabric.

I am also the founder and executive director of the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative, an Internet-driven, all-volunteer effort to raise awareness and fund research through art.

Tell us about your family; married, divorced, children, grands, boomerangs or parents living with you, etc.

My husband and I have been married for 33 years. We have a 27-year-old daughter. I am an only child. My father died at age 60 in 1984 and my mother died at 85 in 2008. She died after a 7-year battle with Alzheimer’s. She lived with us for just short of four and a half years before I had to move her to an assisted living facility.

What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s?

Recording the yearly broadcast of The Wizard of Oz on my grandmother’s reel-to-reel tape recorder. It weighed more than I did and I had to hold the microphone in front of our black-and-white television set the whole time. BUT, I got to listen to TWOZ anytime I wanted to. I was able to overlook that fact that there was a short in the wiring and if you didn’t hold the microphone just right you got zapped.

What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women?

My parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be and accomplish anything I set my mind to. I guess I believed them.  I’m not afraid to try new things or work hard.

What inspires you?

Everything. There is something to learn every time you open your eyes and look around.

What brings you the most pleasure in midlife?

The same thing that brought me pleasure throughout my life so far: expressing my creativity by making things, usually by hand. I started with crocheting, embroidery, and knitting….then moved to quilting when I was in college. It continues to be extremely satisfying as well as challenging. I still get the biggest kick out of teaching people how to quilt and entertaining them while they learn.

Do you have any interesting hobbies?

My quilting hobby tuned into my career about 25 years ago, but I do like to dabble outside the realm of quilting too. I dye fabric for my quilts (and underpants because it’s just fun), and I sew bowls out of coiled clothesline. I also love to take pictures and am learning how to edit video.

Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite.

This is probably cheating, but about 15 years ago I wrote a book called “How NOT To Make A Prize-Winning Quilt.”
It still makes me laugh out loud even though I know how it ends.

Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go?

  • I get to travel at least once a month to teach quilting (by myself) and also try to take at least one trip a year with my family.
  • I do have several friends throughout the United States whom I get to visit because I find myself in their neck of the woods through work.
  • As an itinerant quilt teacher I’ve taught in nearly every state, and half a dozen foreign countries.
  • As a kid my family lived in Italy at various times and we go back as often as we can.

Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate.

No, I’m lucky if I remember to take a vitamin. I have been the same weight since I was in college. I try to eat a low-fat diet and I walk at the mall most mornings.

What do you stress about?

What DON’T I stress about?! I can worry about anything!

If you’ve ever taken care of someone with Alzheimer’s, every time you can’t think of the right word, misplace your car keys, or accidentally put your purse in the refrigerator, you convince yourself you’re going down that same road.

Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go?

I grew jowls one day. That was a surprise.

Everything seems to be heading south, but if fixing it costs a lot of money or involves pain, I’m not going there. Wait, I take that back. I do have my hair dyed, one of the more boring (and itchy) things I can think of doing, plus it’s expensive.

And I do wear a little make-up, but just so I don’t frighten my students.

Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how?

Not really; I’m the same person I have always been.

Do you plan to retire?

Yes, but not for a while. I still enjoy teaching too much.

Are you doing anything to GO Green?

You mean other than the fabric-dying thing? One of these days I’m going to remember to bring the fabric sacks INTO the grocery store. They’re in the car. Does that count? We recycle, re-purpose, and try not to waste, but we could do better.

Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife?

Taking care of my mother and watching Alzheimer’s rob her of herself was a huge turning point in my life. Because of her struggle I started a national nonprofit charity when I was in my early fifties, something that I even found surprising at the time. It has led to a huge sense of fulfillment and sense of purpose.

Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them?

Sure. I’d still like to learn how to ride a unicycle, juggle, play the piano with two hands, and speak a foreign language fluently without having to learn it. Those probably aren’t going to happen. But with any luck I’ll continue to make more quilts, learn how to draw, and maybe learn how to slow down and relax. I’m a work in progress.

How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world?

The Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative sponsored a traveling quilt exhibit about Alzheimer’s that has been seen by more than 300,000 people at 49 venues in 31 states over the last five years. We’ve received more than 6,200 donated quilts, giving their makers a creative way to be grieve the loss of someone they love while supporting our mission. (We sell the quilts or auction them online in monthly auctions.) The AAQI has raised nearly $500,000 for research, one quilt at a time and some of the research we have financed has shown promise.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

My mother was my best friend and conspirator. She taught me how to play and how to create. My husband encouraged me to fill my life with things I enjoy doing and always made me feel that what I did mattered.

If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose.

Every day is a gift.

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