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Fairfield County woman finds purpose to prioritize people, healing during COVID

Tracy Yingling specializes in creating special memories for complete strangers.

AMANDA, Ohio — This is a story about a woman whose name is Debbie.

Before we get to her, though, you have to be introduced to Marja Keplar.

The quilt she holds on her Grove City front porch helps her to let go. She and her husband Brian were married 30 years. In July 2020, Brian was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

“And he had it for about seven, eight months and he passed away from it,” Keplar said.

The father. The husband. The good man who loved coaching and doing whatever he could for whoever he could help died April 1, 2021.

The blanket is made up of pieces of him.

“This was our last family picture before he passed away,” Keplar said pointing to a picture on the quilt. “This is the photo of all of us in the hospital with him on the day he passed away. It’s all of our hands, together,” she said, pointing to another image.

A gift of gathered garms for her children.

“I wanted them to have something to remember him by and it’s kind of a little security blanket for them so when they feel like they need him then they have their blankets,” she said.

A gift given by a woman 40 miles from Keplar’s home in Amanda.

This is when you are introduced to Tracy Yingling. And, by association, her coincidence of a craft.

“This wasn’t even part of any plan,” she said.

Yingling started sewing in 2014. It was a hobby. A side job that took off.

“I can’t believe this turned into what it turned into,” she said.

During COVID, Yingling says her work at Tracy’s Home Sewn Creations increased. She specializes in making crafts from baby blankets to memory blankets and pillows that are garnished in the garments of loved ones no longer with us.

This side business has now turned into her main business. For Yingling, though, the biggest gift is knowing families are finding comfort.

“Rewarding,” she said. “Very rewarding.”

To date, she’s made more than 700 pillows and more than 500 blankets that have been sold nationwide to families like the Keplars. Families that, while their lives are unraveling, find peace in Yingling and her gift. Most of them, Yingling knows, she’ll never meet.

“It’s nice knowing that they’ve been able to save the things and have something like that made to have,” she said.

She knows how important these things are. She knows because she doesn’t have one.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “When we went through mom’s things…they were given away and donated and stuff.”

She lost her mother 20 years ago. Those who knew her called her Debbie.

Back then, Yingling says saving pieces of clothing just wasn’t thought about.

Today, it fuels her inspiration.

“Since I don’t have anything of mom’s I kind of know what it feels like when I’m turning over something that I’ve made for someone,” she said.

That’s why she does it. To help people, like the Keplar family, remember.

“He’ll always be with us,” Keplar said.

Yingling helps families hold on to the good things while wiping away the grief and the pain of loss. She’s also proving that strangers just might be the best friends we could ever have.

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