MAPLETON, Utah — When Kay Bills, a longtime resident of Mapleton, retired 12 years ago, he never imagined that a project he would start would circle the globe and that it would become something he loves to do.
Bills worked at Geneva Steel for 44 years and when he retired, his wife Jean told him he needed a hobby so he wouldn't sit around and watch television.
"I told him he could clean out the basement or he could figure out how to make hats on a loom," said Jean, laughing. "I gave him some yarn and a loom to make hats and scarves and he started making them."
Fast forward, and Bills has made more than 3,200 hats, which have been given to children in Russian orphanages, patients and visitors at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, people living on Indian reservations, people in Mexico, missionaries, friends and grandchildren. He even made hats for his granddaughter's entire class.
"I make the hats and donate them because I feel like it is a worthwhile thing to do," he said. "I enjoy it because of the appreciation people show to me."
When Bills first began making the hats, he and Jean purchased the yarn. But as more people found out about his hobby, family and friends have started giving him yarn from their stashes.
"Neighbors and friends bring yarn over to Kay so that he can continue to make the hats," Jean said. "When he needs a specific color we go out and get that."
Bills can make three hats from two skeins of yarn. Over the years he has figured out how to create patterns on the hats instead of just making them a solid color.
"I discovered how to make patterns and switch the colors from the inside to the outside," he said. "I am able to really change them around quite a bit. I think that is why I have continued to make them, because I can make unique designs on each one."
Bills even has a hat he made with his initials on it. He likes all of the hats he makes but his favorites are the one he makes when he has pieces of leftover yarn.
"I take the pieces, which are usually 12 to 18 inches long and tie them together in square knots," he said. "Then I use this on the loom and it makes a colorful hat with the ends of the yarn showing."
Bills has kept a record of where each hat or scarf he has made has gone.
"I include the pattern, the size and the location where the hat or scarf was donated," he said. "It has been neat to see where they have all gone."
Giving back to others isn't something new for Bills and his wife. The two have volunteered at the LDS Bishops Storehouse in Spanish Fork and Springville, at the Mapleton Senior Center and are currently volunteers at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center where Bills is able to pass on his hats to babies, children, cancer patients and family members in the operating room waiting room.
"One time when Kay was volunteering in the waiting room a child was crying and wouldn't stop," Jean said. "Kay ran out to the car and got one of the hats he had made and went and put it on the child's head. The child stopped crying immediately and calmed right down."
His hats also have made their way to the veterans hospital, where the hats were wrapped and given to veterans. Right now, Bills is working on hats that will be donated to a homeless shelter for women as part of an Eagle Scout project for a Boy Scout he knows.
Bills doesn't plan to stop making hats anytime soon.
"As long as I have yarn and I don't get arthritis, I plan to keep making hats," he said. "It is something I like to do and it is relaxing. People's appreciation is the best part."
Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldextra.com