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Knitting 530 Blankets

Greenspring resident Janie Hermon earns Meritorious Service Award from the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.

In May, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society recognized Greenspring resident Janie Hermon for her outstanding service to the society, as she logged 17,000 volunteer hours from February 2000 to May 2011.

The society’s mission is to provide financial and educational assistance to members of the United States Naval Services and their families. The only volunteer with that many hours, Hermon received the Meritorious Service Award at the society’s National Capitol Region annual luncheon in May at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

“I was shocked to death,” she said, reflecting on the surprise of receiving this award.

Raised in western Pennsylvania, Hermon moved around as a child. She was born in Courtney, Pa., to Pauline and Rudy Renko, a coal miner. She moved with her parents and brother to Scranton early in her childhood, where they remained until she was 12. She began babysitting and worked at the local aluminum factory to help support herself and her family before heading to Baltimore, Md., to take a job with Social Security.

Eventually she headed to Washington, D.C., for stationing at the U.S. Army Signal Corps, the organization that maintains communications and information systems for the combined armed forces.

“I arrived a week after [World War II] ended,” Hermon said. “That job was gone.” She was restationed at the Army War College, leading to a career at the Pentagon. It was there she met her husband, Lester Hermon, a retired army officer from Kansas who was working in Washington, D.C., at the time.

Janie Hermon briefly switched branches to the Air Force before retiring. “I got a pay check every two weeks,” Hermon said of her experience as a civilian in the military, despite the pay raises and various achievement awards during her career.

The Hermons lived in Fairfax and Alexandria with their two children, building a home to Janie Hermon’s specifications. When her husband died in 1996, Janie Hermon returned to Baltimore to live at Charleston, an Erickson Living retirement community like Greenspring. However, as soon as she heard that a retirement home was being built in Springfield, minutes away from where she had once lived, she made plans to return in 1999. “I was one of the first to sign up,” said Hermon, “and it took me three years to get here.”

Greenspring, the largest retirement community in Northern Virginia, is one of 16 Erickson Living retirement communities. It is home to 2,000 residents who have the opportunity to engage in a fulfilling lifestyle with a true sense of community, providing a wide range of activities and kinship with fellow residents.

Once Hermon arrived, Jean Bley took Hermon under her wing. Bley had been in charge of one of the branches of the Navy-Marine Relief Society, located at every military base along the East Coast. The branch at Greenspring is the only one in the Washington, D.C., area. The society sends baby blankets to enlisted personnel with newborn children around the world. The society sends yellow, white, blue and pink yarn for the weekly meetings and ships the blankets out, and the members buy yarn themselves when funds run low.

After 12 years at Greenspring, Janie Hermon is now the leader of the society. “Jean left me a den of yarn,” she said.

The six women meet every Wednesday at 3 p.m., knitting and crocheting for an hour before dinner. “It’s a way to pass the time,” Hermon said of the service she has done. She enjoys the time with friends, also keeping her hands busy while she watches television. She makes at least a blanket a week, translating to roughly 30 hours of work, and made 530 last year.

“My problem is finding more patterns,” Hermon laughs. The women rarely receive thank you letters for their efforts, and never meet the recipients.

“It’s a shame,” said Jessica McKay, the public affairs manager at Greenspring. But the society reports that when the enlisted spouses open the cabinets full of blankets, they are overwhelmed because they do not know which of the beautiful blankets they want.

Janie Hermon intends to keep on knitting. She stores the blankets, some to be sent overseas, some for her family. Her granddaughter, married last October, asked for one to be kept for her, and Herman keeps the blanket ready, along with those to be shipped. The group has become an opportunity to talk with friends as well as provide service to enlisted soldiers, and she says that the amazing work she has done was “not really that hard a thing to do.”