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Mary Gasperik and The Illinois State Fair

Mary Gasperik did not leave a list of her quilt awards, but she did leave many clues. Mary dated some of the quilts in embroidery or quilting, helping to identify when quilts could have won dated ribbons. Even though the Tuley Park quilt shows were not contests, their distinctive yellow display tags listed the awards won by the quilt at other shows. Paper tags attached to prize ribbons sometimes had handwritten notes with the title of the quilt. In 1947 Gasperik sent a photo album to relatives in Hungary with photos of quilts and descriptions of the prizes won. Some fan letters mentioned the name of a quilt or a description that identified the quilt admired at the Illinois State Fair. Newspaper clippings listed awards won, but did not name a quilt specifically. Some clippings mentioned the number of quilts entered. When the family divided quilts after the passing of Mary and her children, some prize ribbons passed with the quilt. The family also kept paperwork from the Illinois State Fair, including prize receipts and entry records. Photo sessions by her son Elmer displayed some quilts with their prize ribbons. In March of 2021 Rick Gasik, a former Hazel Crest neighbor of Mary’s and Mary’s son Stephen contacted the Quilters of Hall of Fame (QHF) about a treasure trove of 40 Gasperik prize ribbons he had. His plan was to sell them on eBay when he learned of Mary’s upcoming induction in the QHF. The QHF referred him to the family and he transferred the ribbons to them. All of these clues were used to match quilts with the ribbons they won.

The last Detroit News quilt show was held in May of 1940 and the first Illinois State Fair Mary entered was August of 1940. This began an era where her needlework skills were richly rewarded. Mary won at least 44 ribbons between 1940 and 1966. Forty-three survive (a blue ribbon for an Indiana Wreath was lost). Ribbons and entry forms exist for the years 1940, 1941, 1946, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960 and 1966. The Illinois State Fair tags document four different prize categories for quilts: cotton patchwork quilt, cotton applique quilt, most artistic quilt, and best novelty quilt. Mary won at least one ribbon in each category.

1940
Mary won two blue ribbons in 1940 for her Hungarian Girls quilt. Handwritten on the tag for one ribbon reads, “Quilts and Bedspreads Cotton applique quilt Hungarian”
Handwritten on the other ribbon is, “Quilts and Bedspreads Most Artistic quilt.”
According to information Gasperik wrote under 2 photographs of this quilt in a photo album sent to relatives in 1947 [translation from Hungarian]: "I won two first prizes with it and a second one. Also, I won a recognition ribbon for the quilt. This year - 1947 - I won again 2 first prizes with the quilt."
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First Prize, 1940 Illinois State Fair, Cotton Applique

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First Prize, 1940 Illinois State Fair, Most Artistic

Also in the family collection is the Receipt For Money Paid On Entry Fees showing Mary earned $4 for her efforts. Mary received a letter of congratulations from Harry Hershey who was running for governor of Illinois.
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1940 Illinois State Fair receipt.

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October 17, 1940 letter from Harry Hershey.

1941
Three ribbons survive from Mary’s 1941 competitive efforts. Handwritten on the tag of the blue ribbon is “Cotton applique”, and the back reads, “Morning Glory.” Mary made four Morning Glory quilts two apricot (#062, #026) and two blue (#009, #016). The blue quilts could not have won the ribbon because they were made for Doris and Elmer’s home and they weren’t married until 1944. We can further narrow it down to #026 because it can be identified in a photograph (the two apricot quilts have a different number of leaves in their central motifs) in a photo album sent to Germany in 1946-47 on a page bearing the notation “Mary Gasperik’s first two prize-winning quilts around 1940”.
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First Prize, 1941 Illinois State Fair, Cotton Applique

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Mary also won a Second Prize, Most Artistic category. The name of the quilt is not handwritten on the tag, but it could be for the same Morning Glory quilt since it is a different category.

This Fourth prize ribbon from the 1941 Indiana State Fair does not list the quilt that won and there are no clues as to what quilt won this prize.
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Fourth Prize, 1941 Indiana State Fair.

1942-1945
The Illinois State Fair was cancelled from 1942 through1945 because of WWII. Through an exhibit label and a letter, we know Mary entered a contest held by Marshal Fields Department Store in Chicago and won the Second prize. It perhaps was significant to the judging that this Calico Rose quilt is a faithful (and beautifully executed) rendition of a Paragon kit which was sold by Marshall Fields. 
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Exhibit label documenting the prize won by the Calico Rose.

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A letter from Marshall Field congratulates Mary on her winning quilt. This letter is dated March 26, 1943. This may make the exhibit tag incorrect or the contest may have started in late 1942 and continued into 1943.

There is also a Tuley Park exhibit tag that states that the “Daisy Quilt… Second Prize at Indiana State Fair.” Although it is unknown which year this was, it is most likely during one of the years in which Indiana continued to hold its state fair, even though Illinois had cancelled them due to the war effort.
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Tuley Park exhibit tag for the Daisy Quilt.

1946
Mary’s daughter-in-law Doris was gifted with beautiful quilts for her wedding (#012), anniversary (#040), and to decorate her home (#009 and #016). Doris was grateful and proud of these quilts. She helped Mary enter them and Mary’s other quilts in contests from 1946-1966.

Mary won four ribbons at the 1946 Illinois State Fair. From an August 17, 1946 letter from Miss Veronica Gavin we know Mary exhibited two quilts, "Daisies Won’t Tell" and “the wedding design.” Miss Gavin requested both patterns. A letter written by Ferne Thompson on August 16, 1946 also requested the Daisies Won’t Tell pattern.
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August 17, 1946 letter from Miss Veronica Gavin.

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August 16, 1946 letter from Ferne Thompson.

Mary made three wedding or bridal quilts: Bridal Bouquet for Doris and Elmer’s wedding (#012); Bridal Bouquet for Karen and Hank Finn (#064); and Wedding Quilt for Mary Bruland (#074). The quilt made for Karen and Hank Finn was made in 1956. The quilt made for Mary Bruland was in California by 1946. That leaves the quilt made for Doris and Elmer. However, there is another possibility, a Leaf Quilt (#013) given to Doris and Elmer on their first anniversary. A yellow Tuley Park exhibit tag reads “Leaf Quilt First Prize in Springfield given to Doris Gasperik as a first anniversary gift by Mrs. Mary Gasperik”. There is a picture of Doris and Elmer’s Bridal Bouquet with a blue ribbon attached, so it is probably the quilt that goes with the 1946 Blue Ribbon.
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Doris and Elmer’s Bridal Bouquet photographed on a clothesline.

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First Prize 1946 Illinois State Fair, Most Artistic.

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Second Prize 1946 Illinois State Fair, Cotton Applique Quilt

The two other ribbons are probably for Daisies Won’t Tell.
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First prize, 1946 Illinois State Fair, Cotton Patch Work Quilt

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Second prize, 1946 Illinois State Fair, Best Quilting on Cotton Quilt.

1947
In 1947 Mary Gasperik sent a “peasant bolero” made for her daughter-in-law Doris, to the Illinois State Fair, along with two quilts. Mary won a First prize for Most Artistic and a First prize for Best Quilting on a Cotton Quilt. According to information Gasperik wrote under 2 photographs of the Hungarian Girl quilt included in a photo album sent to relatives in 1947 [translation from Hungarian]: "I won two first prizes with it and a second one. Also, I won a recognition ribbon for the quilt. This year - 1947 - I won again 2 first prizes with the quilt."

An envelope with the handwritten words “2 quilts + peasant bolero” containing the cardboard tags and claim checks for the two quilts turned up with the newly discovered 40 ribbon cache. The prize ribbons were among the small number of documents and records in the collection of quilt materials saved directly from Mary Gasperik’s home.
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First prize 1947 Illinois State Fair.

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First prize 1947 Illinois State Fair.

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Tag naming the category “Best Quilting on Cotton Quilt” for one of the blue ribbons.

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Tag naming the category “Most Artistic Quilt” for one of the blue ribbons.

1948-1951
In 1948 Mary’s husband Stephen suffered a severe stroke from which he never fully recovered. Life for Mary was never the same. Stephen had to sell his grocery store and he and Mary moved to East Hazel Crest, where they remained for the rest of their lives. It is quite possible that Mary did not resume sending quilts to the Illinois State Fair until 1952.

A Tuley Park quilt show was held in February 1949. Organized by Doris and the Woodfield Woman’s Club, it featured Mary’s quilts among other items. The clippings describe Mary as a former member of the Tuley Park club.
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February 23, 1949 Chicago area clipping

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February 23, 1949 Chicago area clipping

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February 24, 1949 Chicago area clipping

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February 1949 Chicago area clipping

1952
There are three ribbons from the 1952 Illinois State Fair. The blue ribbon tag has “Indiana Wreath” and “Applique” handwritten on the back. An “Illinois State Fair Awards for 1952” list from Merikay Waldvogel’s Bertha Stenge research corroborates that Mary’s prize was for Best Cotton Applique Quilt. Close inspection of a photograph of an Indiana Wreath quilt with a blue ribbon photographed on a clothesline reveals it is #063. Mary made three other Indiana Wreath quilts (#032; #043; and #011). Even though the quilt on the clothesline can be identified, the date of the ribbon cannot. So this could be a ribbon for any of the Indiana Wreath quilts.
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First prize 1952 Illinois State Fair, Best Cotton Applique.

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“Illinois State Fair Awards for 1952” list

It is possible that prize winners Stenge and Gasperik met at the 1952 Illinois State Fair. For certain, in 1956 when Gasperik was compiling a list of contacts for her upcoming 50th wedding anniversary, she included Bertha’s name on her list. And in 1957, Stenge’s daughter sent a personal note to Gasperik acknowledging Bertha’s death.

A Third place ribbon has “Brown Feather Star” and “Piece Quilt” written on the tag on the back. It matches a quilt the family calls Indian Feather Star.
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Third prize, 1952 Illinois State Fair, probably for Best Cotton Patchwork Quilt.

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Tag 9547, probably for the Indian Feather Star quilt.

The only thing known about this Third place ribbon is that it passed through Elmer and Doris Gasperik’s family.
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Third place, 1952 Illinois State Fair.

1953
The East Hazel Crest News (issue No. 18, dated September 23, 1953, published by American Legion Post 1139) reads,
Mrs. Gasperik Wins Prizes
It has come to out attention that one of the women of our village, Mrs. Stephen Gasperik, was awarded 2 first prizes & a second prize at the Ill. State Fair for her quilts. The 2 firsts were given for her “Delectable Mountain: & “Bridal Bouquet”. The second place ribbon was placed on her “Indiana Wreath”. Last year she won a 1st & two 3rds.
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The East Hazel Crest News, September 23, 1953.

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First prize 1953 Illinois State Fair.

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A family photo of Mary posed in front of her Delectable Mountains quilt at the 1953 Illinois State Fair.

The Hazel Crest newsletter was collected by daughter-in-law Doris Gasperik. This provides a clue that the prize-winning Bridal Bouquet quilt belonged to her.
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Bridal Bouquet with blue ribbon photographed on a clothesline.

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First prize 1953 Illinois State Fair.

Doris Gasperik's Indiana Wreath appears in a picture of the quilt display at the Illinois State Fair (with an unidentified woman). Because Doris collected the East Hazel Crest announcement, it suggests it might have been her Indiana Wreath quilt. However, the ribbon was not found in the collection of Kathy Jacobs (Doris and Elmer's daughter), so it can't be confirmed definitively that this was the Indiana Wreath quilt that took Second place in 1953 at the Illinois State Fair. Mary made three other Indiana Wreath quilts (#032; #043; and #063).
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Second prize, 1953 Illinois State Fair.

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Visitor to the Illinois State Fair pauses before the Indiana Wreath quilt.

1954
Mary’s daughter Elsie Krueger typed up a list of “Gasperik quilts belonging to Elsie and family” when she was worried about the quilts’ fate in the East Hazel Crest house’s attic during her mother’s final decline. She brought them to her house to ensure their survival. On that list Elsie typed “Maroon Leaf Design 1954” –associating a 1954 date with this quilt.
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First prize, 1954 Illinois State Fair, Best Cotton Patchwork Quilt.

The second blue ribbon won by Mary in 1954 was for one of her Indian quilts. She made seven in all, six for grandchildren, and one for relatives in Hungary.
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First prize, 1954 Illinois State Fair, Best Novelty Quilt.

Handwritten on the tag on the back of ribbon: “Joan’s Dutch Mill.” This is the only Gasperik quilt matching that description.
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Second prize, 1954 Illinois State Fair, Best Cotton Applique Quilt.

1955
Mary added three more prizes to her collection in 1955. The first was for a Tree of Life quilt. Mary made five Tree of Life quilts, but only three would have been available to enter in a contest in 1955: #031, #044, or #065
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Tree of Life #031, inscribed 1938

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Tree of Life #044

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Tree of Life #065, inscribed 1942

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First prize, 1954 Illinois State Fair.

Another first prize ribbon was awarded to a quilt the family calls Indian Feather Star. Handwritten on the attached tag is “Single Feather Star” This is the only Gasperik quilt which matches that description.
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First Prize, 1955 Illinois State Fair.

The third ribbon was a second place for the Pansy Basket quilt.
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Second prize, 1955 Illinois State Fair.

1956
By 1956 Mary’s quilts were becoming known and appreciated. A handwritten note lists three visitors to Mary’s home. The names and addresses on the pink receipt were written by one of Gasperik’s visitors and the penciled note at the top is Mary’s note to herself.  It translates as “On May 22,1956 three ladies were here.  They were very kind.” One of the three, Mary Jeans sent Gasperik a thank you note and suggested that she bring her quilt group to view Mary’s quilts.  It is a shame that, at a time when her quilts were garnering some appreciation and admiration from other quilters, that Mary could not find a way to participate in more competitions and quilt shows. In addition of advancing age and illness, her lack of English skills surely made this problem worse.
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Visitor list with Mary’s note.

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May 29, 1956 letter from Mary Jeans.

This clipping was collected by Mary Gasperik. It describes a quilt contest sponsored by Mandel Brothers Department Store in Chicago. She probably entered quilts in this contest.
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April 15, 1956, Mandel Brothers’ Contest announcement.

When the Illinois State Fair was held in August, Mary won three more ribbons. There are no clues as to which quilts were awarded these ribbons.
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First prize, 1956 Illinois State Fair.

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First prize, 1956 Illinois State Fair.

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Second prize, 1956 Illinois State Fair.

In November of 1956, a newspaper announced Mary and Stephen’s 50th wedding anniversary. It presented a summary of Mary’s quilt-making career to that point. A handwritten invitation list includes Bertha Stenge, award winning Chicago area quiltmaker, and Detroit News Quilt Club member Emma Zawatski.
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Gasperik Wedding Anniversary Announcement

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Handwritten 50 the Wedding Anniversary invitation list

1957
1957 started with a pattern request from Mrs. Cummings. She saw one of Mary’s appliqued quilts at the Illinois State Fair the previous summer and wants to make one like it. Another letter in July was from Prudence Fuchsmann, the daughter of Bertha Stenge. She was announcing the death of her mother by writing to people she found in her mother’s address book. More proof that Mary and Bertha knew each other.
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January 8, 1957 letter from Mrs. Cummings with a pattern request.

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July 18, 1957 letter from Prudence Fuchsmann, announcing the death of her mother, Bertha Stenge.

Four more ribbons were won in 1957. The four ribbons were accompanied by Illinois State Fair paperwork. The entry blank lists five items, three quilts and two pieces of cutwork. The quilts were 14001, Cotton Applique Quilt; 14002, Most Artistic Quilt; and 14003, Best Novelty Quilt. The statement of premiums list second prize and $4 for 14001; first prize and $5 for 14002; and first prize and $5 for 14003. A second statement of premiums lists first prize and $5 for 14001; second and $4 for 14004; and first and $5 for 14002. The year 1957 is penciled on the backs of the statement of premiums.
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1957 Illinois State Fair Entry form

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1957 Illinois State Fair Statement of Premiums

Three ribbons were for quilts and one was for cutwork. A family photo showing Mary at the Illinois State Fair in front of her Bridal Bouquet quilt identifies one of the quilts that won a ribbons.
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First prize, 1957 Illinois State Fair, Most Artistic Quilt.

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Mary Gasperik standing before her Bridal Bouquet at the Illinois State Fair.

The other three ribbons have no clues. The first and second prize ribbons were for quilts and the third prize was for cutwork.
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First prize, 1957 Illinois State Fair, Best Novelty Quilt

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Second prize, 1957 Illinois State Fair, Best Cotton Applique Quilt

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Third Prize, 1957 Illinois State Fair, Cutwork

1958
As the following clipping, from the Springfield Illinois State Register August 15, 1958 indicates, Mary Gasperik went right on winning ribbons for her quilts at the Illinois State Fair. It reads, “Mrs. Mary Gasperik of East Hazel Crest exhibited four appliqued quilts at the fair and was awarded three firsts and one second place. Mrs. Gasperik is confined to a wheel chair.”
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August 15, 1958 Illinois State Register, “State Fair Briefs.”

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1958 Illinois State Fair Entry form

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1958 Illinois State Fair Premium Receipts.

Handwritten on the tag on this ribbon is “1958 Double Feather Star”. There are two Double Feather Star quilts that may have won this ribbon. One is maroon and won a first prize in 1954 at the Illinois State Fair. This is the other possibility.
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First prize 1958 Illinois State Fair.

The next first prize ribbon is for an Indiana Wreath quilt. Close inspection of a photograph of an Indiana Wreath quilt with a blue ribbon photographed on a clothesline reveals it is #063. Mary made three other Indiana Wreath quilts (#032#043#011). Even though the quilt on the clothesline can be identified, the date of the ribbon cannot. So this could be a ribbon for any of the Indiana Wreath quilts.
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Indiana Wreath photographed on a clothesline with its blue ribbon.

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First Prize, 1958 Illinois State Fair.

Two other prize ribbons have turned up in the Gasperik collection. They are not mentioned in the August 15, article so were probably awarded for something other than quilts. Mary did enter cutwork and clothing in previous shows. The blue ribbon is slightly different it reads “Class K Textile & Art Amateur Art”.
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First Prize, 1958 Illinois State Fair.

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Second Prize, 1958 Illinois State Fair.

1959
There is no documentation that Mary entered the 1959 Illinois State Fair. Mary received a letter from Elsie Pecsenye dated January 1959 requesting “If I am not mistaken, you promised me the patterns for a quilting background. The ones I would really like to have are the harp and the heart. I think they are on the quilt you had intended to donate to the museum.” The Colonial Quilting Bee has a harp quilting motif and Mary did try to donated to the Chicago Institute of Arts.
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January 1959 letter from Elsie Pecsenye.

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Harp quilting motif on the Colonial Quilting Bee.

1960
An entry blank filled in for the Illinois State Fair held August 12-21, 1960, lists seven quilts and one cutwork tablecloth submitted by Mary: 
“Class Lot K, Lot No. 106, Prem. No. 14000 cotton patchwork quilt;
Class Lot K, Lot No. 106, Prem. No. 14001 cotton applique quilt; 
Class Lot K, Lot No. 106, Prem. No. 14002 most artistic quilt;
Class Lot K, Lot No. 106, Prem. No. 14003 best novelty quilt;
Class Lot K, Lot No. 106, Prem. No. 14004, quilt, any other kind; 
Class Lot K, Lot No. 111, Prem. No. 14131, crib quilt - cotton pieced;
Class Lot K, Lot No. 111, Prem. No. 14132, crib quilt - cotton appliqued or embroidered; and
Class Lot K, Lot No. 108, Prem. No. 14075, cutwork."
 
A letter dated August 27, 1960 from Dollie Burdell mentions “first prize of girls and boys in print costumes” indicating the Hungarian Girls 18-14-25 quilt and “#2 prize done in 2 shades of purple?” indicating the Burgundy Leaf and Vine quilt. A letter from Mrs. Herbert Garling, dated September 17, 1960, mentions “your (2) gorgeous quilts” and “the red trimmed one” again referring to the Burgundy Leaf and Vine.
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1960 Illinois State Fair Entry form.

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August 27, 1960 letter from Dollie Burdell.

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September 17, 1960 letter from Mrs. Herbert Garling.

Another quilt that was entered can be identified by an ID tag. All the 1960 ribbons in the Gasperik collection have handwritten quilt names on them. There is no ribbon marked for the Victory quilt. It was entered in the Cotton Patchwork Quilt category.
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Mary posed with her Grandmother’s Victory Garden quilt in 1961.

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Victory Flower Garden tag

Hungarian Harvest Festival/Hungarian Girls won a 1960 Illinois State Fair Blue Ribbon.
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Stephen and Mary pose with Hungarian Girls with ribbon hanging on the clothesline in East Hazel Crest, 1961.

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First Prize, 1960 Illinois State Fair, Best Novelty Quilt.

Handwritten on the tag attached to a 1960 first prize ribbon is "Burgundy & White Leaves." Mary made three Leaf and Vine quilts in three colors, burgungy (#024), blue (#061), and pink (#013).
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Burgundy Leaf and Vine

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Leaves and Vine photographed on a clothesline with its blue ribbon, 1961.

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First Prize, 1960 Illinois State Fair, Quilt Any Other Kind.

This quilt was made for Mary’s grandson David.
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Second Prize, 1960 Illinois State Fair, Crib Quilt.

Handwritten on the tag on the Third Prize 1960 Illinois State Fair ribbon is “Meadow Lark and Peasant Wreath”. This is the only Gasperik quilt matching that description.
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Third Prize, 1960 Illinois State Fair, Most Artistic Quilt.

Not all Mary's awards were for quilts. This 1960 blue ribbon was for a yellow linen cutwork tablecloth given to Susan Salser as a 1963 wedding gift.
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Cutwork Tablecloth

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First Prize, Cutwork

August and December 1960 letters to Mary Gasperik from Mrs. D. Burdell indicate that the Mary Gasperik ‘Peasant Girls’ quilt had won a first prize at the Illinois State Fair, and that there was also a "#2 prize done in 2 shades of purple" [a quilt which I guess to be the ‘Burgundy Leaf and Vine’ quilt]. Both Dollie Burdell and Mrs. Herbert Garling requested patterns from Mary. These are the thank yous from Dollie Burdell, December 22, 1960, and Mrs. Herbert Garling, November 9, 1960.
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November 9, 1960 letter from Mrs. Herbert Garling

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December 22, 1960 letter from Dollie Burdell

1961-1969
In the 1960s Elmer had a few photography sessions where he photographed Mary’s quilts on clotheslines. Some of the photos include the ribbons won by the quilts and some included Mary and other family members with the quilts.

In this East Hazel Crest family photo, taken in 1962, Mary and Stephen pose with daughter-in-law Doris Gasperik (wife of Elmer) and granddaughter Kathy. Stephen died in 1962, not long after this photo was taken. Doris was crucially helpful in encouraging her mother-in-law to continue exhibiting her quilts at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield after he died.
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Doris Gasperik, Kathy Gasperik, Mary Gasperik, Stephen Gasperik.

The last record of Mary entering the Illinois State Fair was 1966 where she won a First Prize for Hungarian Girls.
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First prize ribbon from the 1966 Illinois State Fair.

Mary received many letters from visitors to the fair that admired her quilt.
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August 19, 1966 letter, Miss Loretta Jones, wanted to purchase the quilt.

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August 20, 1966 letter, Mrs. Walter Sembell wanted a copy of the pattern to make for her daughter.

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August 22, 1966 letter, Mrs. Beulah Lawson, wanted to purchase one of Mary’s quilts.

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August 23, 1966 letter, Mrs. Ann Antonacci, wanted the name of the quilt on display at the fair and whether she bought it or sells them.

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November 20, 1966 letter, Mrs. Edith Sembell, wanted to purchase the pattern.

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October 13, 1966 letter, Mrs. Ann Antonacci, wanted to purchase a color photo of Hungarian Girls.

Undated letters.
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CAn undated letter from Mrs. C. De Coster, asking for a pattern.

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An undated letter from Mrs. Carlton Schumacher, wanted to buy a pattern.

Eventually arthritis and ill health made it impossible for Mary to continue her needlework late in life. The Illinois State Register on August 15, 1958 mentions “Mrs. Gasperik is confined to a wheel chair.” Mary died in 1969 at the age of 81.
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