Hector Launier honors wife through quilts

Auburn man, 86, donates to babies in hospital
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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When Hector Launier’s wife’s vision started to decline, she found it difficult to thread the needle of her sewing machine. As her vision worsened, he began cutting fabric pieces for her, and when Isabelle Launier could no longer distinguish colors, her husband began choosing them for her, eventually taking over quilting in the Launier household.

Isabelle Launier died May 20, 2005. To this day, her husband is still quilting, keeping her memory alive in the form of warmth provided to family, friends and babies whose lives are off to a rough start.

“He does it every day,” said Launier’s daughter, Joan Baca. “Every day he’s sewing something.”

To view a photo gallery of Launier at work, click here.

It’s a heartwarming story by itself, but it’s made even more so by the fact that Launier, 86, has gone through some hard times himself. In 2007, his granddaughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, in 2009 his Auburn home burned down in the 49 Fire and in 2010 his grandson was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Isabelle Launier suffered from both forms of macular degeneration, one in each eye. It was a devastating diagnosis for a woman who was a member of quilting guilds in Colfax and Auburn, making not only quilts but also wearable art. Since taking up his wife’s craft, Launier has been named an honorary member of the Auburn guild.

When Launier lost his home in the fire, the two guilds stepped up to help, giving him a machine, fabric and thread so he could continue to quilt while his home was being rebuilt. Launier moved back into his home two years ago, the first resident to move back to his neighborhood after the fire.

He has made more than 350 quilts since he began, including a king-sized creation that he gave to his son, Mark Launier. Daughter Carol Macey sends him big rolls of batting from her home in Arizona, and

Baca helps deliver Launier’s quilts to Sutter Memorial Medical Center, where they are donated to the neonatal intensive care unit.

The baby quilts are Launier’s favorite size, he said, because he can complete them at home as opposed to sending them to a professional quilter to finish, which he has to do with larger quilts. He makes the quilts in batches, and once he has about 20 he gives them to Baca, a nutrition services manager at Sutter Medical Center.

Launier’s quilts are welcomed at the hospital, according to Linda Rickards-Ito, Child Life specialist.

“Community support like this is greatly appreciated,” Rickards-Ito said. “Hector’s generosity helps babies in the NICU to feel cozy and comfortable in this environment. We’re grateful for Hector’s donations.”

The preemie quilts aren’t the only ones Launier makes for the hospital. For two years he has donated a quilt for the Sutter Breast Cancer Quilt Auction, which benefits the breast cancer treatment and research programs at Sutter Cancer Center in Sacramento. This year’s entry was a brown-and-pink quilt featuring the famous “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ethel go to work in a chocolate factory.

Launier takes his quilting and donations seriously, Baca said. A retired mechanical engineer, his measurements and stitches are precise, which Baca laughingly said helps distinguish his quilts from those her mother made.

Launier recently had cataracts removed from both eyes, and said that while he still needs glasses for close-up work, at distances he doesn’t need to wear them at all. He has no plans to stop quilting.

“It gives me something to do I guess, and it does good for a lot of other people,” Launier said. “I’m spending my time doing something worthwhile, as much time as I have.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at