SULLIVAN – Clara (Schmitt) Rothmeier loved baseball. She loved quilting too. Rothmeier passed away in 2009 but over a time spanning nearly 60 years she created beautiful pieces of baseball art that baseball and quilting fans across the nation can appreciate. Born in 1931 and raised in the Japan area, located outside of Sullivan, Rothmeier was the product of a sports-crazed family. Her father, William “Big Bill” Schmitt, was a former player who had played minor league baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Her five brothers and four sisters had all played on traveling baseball and softball teams. But it was during the 1950’s that she combined the love of baseball and quilting. A local team on which Rothmeier played traveled to St. Louis to play against a team based out of Springfield, Ill. As a tall gifted first baseman, the Springfield team manager took a liking to how she played the game and asked if she would be interested in joining the team. Rothmeier played competitive softball for as long as she could, into her 40’s.
Accepting the offer, Rothmeier soon found herself living in Springfield, working for a local hospital and playing ball. Alone and in a new community, Clara did what all of her siblings had done growing up; she stitched.
Family members say that Clara’s brothers had stitched tablecloths and pillow cases. Her sisters made quilts. One sister had decided to make a quilt with the St. Louis Cardinals redbird logo on the front and Rothmeier wanted one for herself.
The year was 1955 and Rothmeier decided to start a new quilt. “My Favorite Baseball Stars” is an 84 inch by 84 inch quilt that graced the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. from 1959-1960. The quilt has 44- 8 X 10 portraits which were autographed by the players and then hand-embroidered. The portraits include such legendary stars of game such as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Ted Williams.
Throughout the quilt there are also cut pieces of material resembling 340 baseballs that have been autographed and embroidered. Players include Hall of Fame players Ty Cobb, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Dizzy Dean, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson.
It took Rothmeier over 10 years to complete “My Favorite Baseball Stars” as she collected autographs and quilted. In 1998 the quilt went on tour with other baseball quilts under the name “Grand Slam, a Century of Baseball Quilts”. The tour was sponsored by the Legends of the Game Baseball Museum. According to the museum, this piece of art is the oldest of its kind.
Married to her husband Roman in 1974, the Rothmeier’s returned to Gerald, Mo. in 1979. Roman preceded Clara in death in 2002. Quoted in a year 2000 article with the Associated Press, Rothmeier said, “I’ll be 70 soon and I don’t have any children of my own. I figure if I don’t sell these, somebody else will.”
Rothmeier’s quilting didn’t stop with “My Favorite Baseball Stars”. She also produced quilts commemorating the 1951 St. Louis Cardinals, 1955 World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers, 1957 St. Louis Cardinals and one depicting players from the 1940’s.
Clara also created a quilt she called “Major League Baseball Stars”. Started in 1961, this quilt is made of insignias representing each of the American and National League teams that were in existence at that time. Over 520 small autographed baseballs adorn this 86 inch by 70 inch piece of artwork.
A true baseball fan, Rothmeier also collected baseball cards, magazines and a wide range of other baseball related memorabilia items. Her collection included over 10,000 cards, gloves, figurines, books and items too numerous to mention.
A public auction of Rothmeier’s collection is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Union City Auditorium beginning at 10 a.m.
Rothmeier’s nephew, Gene Blankenship, is the trustee for her estate. Asked about the items going for auction, he said, “This is going to be a big event. The value placed on some of these quilts has been estimated to be thousands of dollars each.”
Asked if he had any special memories of his aunt, Blankenship said, “There are just too many for me to recall or for me to tell you about. She was a great lady and she truly loved sports, especially baseball.”
Author’s note: I contacted Clara Rothmeier in 2008. For many years I had heard about her quilts and collection. As an avid baseball fan, I was intrigued by her quilts. We had an appointment scheduled that unfortunately had to be cancelled. Several months later I heard that she had passed. I truly regret not having the opportunity to meet this woman. I somehow believe that we would have been kindred spirits.