Seymour woman makes, gives away hats for those in need in the community

Carol Gee doesn’t wear hats.

She got turned off by the pink bonnet her mother made her wear when she was about 3 more than seven decades ago.

Yet in Seymour, she is about as closely identified with hats as cowboys or baseball players, if for a different kind. Gee might as well be a one-woman factory the way she churns out winter chapeaux that are commonly referred to as knit hats. Only hers are created on a loom, not by knitting.

There are as many colors of Gee hats as there are crayons in a box. But you can’t buy Gee’s hats. They are not for sale. She is not in business, only in the business of making hats for people in the community who may need one, from the tiniest of babies to adults. Except for family members. They have their own personal collections.

“I like giving them away,” Gee said.

Gee, 75, used to own Grandma Carol’s Bakery and Deli in downtown Seymour. Later, she worked two part-time jobs. No one ever claimed Gee had idle hands. Until she took seriously ill about three years ago. A heart ailment with complications led to her spending a year hospitalized.

When she got home, Gee was looking for something fresh to do. That is how her hobby and passion for hatmaking developed, an offshoot of longtime interests in crocheting, quilling, oil painting, cake decorating, grapevine wreaths and other creative pursuits.

“I’ve always done crafts,” Gee said. “One thing or another. I love hats. I don’t wear hats.”

Gee sat at a table in the Seymour office of Mental Health America of Jackson County and The Arc of Jackson County surrounded by shopping bags bursting with hats she made and donated to the organization. There were 227 of them.

That does not represent the entirety of her recent production. Other Seymour charitable organizations receive deliveries of similar hats, as do close relatives. Plus, there is always a batch still at home.

“I did four or five a day at first,” Gee said.

If the yarn industry has resisted any economic downturn, it can probably thank Gee. She has a never-ending yen for yarn so she can loom away for hours a day. Gee once timed herself to see how long it takes her to make a hat and concluded it is about two and a half hours per. Once, she timed herself making a hat in two hours, and she can do that if not interrupted.

The television set, however, is always on, generating background noise, and you can never tell when something interesting might be shown.

“I enjoy doing it, and it calms my nerves,” Gee said of her looming motivation.

Gee said the material is acrylic yarn, and she acquires it in skeins of between five and 10 ounces. Skeins are cylindrical-shaped balls of yarn. It takes two to three ounces of yarn to make an adult hat and less to make a baby hat. The baby hats are adorned with pom-poms on top.

Once, daughter Amber Turner stumbled upon a large box of yarn on sale at a thrift store and scarfed it up for mom.

The irony in Gee’s work is that she does not herself choose to wear hats of any type. Her hats are intended to be worn in winter weather, but Gee will go without. If she heads outside in extreme weather and her jacket is appropriately equipped, she will flip up the hood to cover her white hair and head.

“If it’s cold enough,” Gee said.

She just doesn’t think she makes a good appearance in hats, regardless of color or shape. Her favorite color to work with is green, and while she is not a Green Bay Packers fan, Gee did once make Packer hats. Her only live pro football game was a Cincinnati Bengals contest, but she is hardly an NFL stats hound.

Turner also has the hat aversion gene. She mostly chooses to go out in the elements without a hat, too. If it is cold, she will wear earmuffs.

“My sister doesn’t wear hats, either,” Turner said.

Jocie Turner, 20, one of Amber’s daughters, would shun hats, as well, but dons the ones gifted by Gee.

“Just my grandma’s hats,” the younger Turner said of her taste in hats. “They’re personal for me. It makes me feel closer to my grandma when I wear one.”

Jocie’s sister, Lexi, 18, a recent Seymour High School graduate who will attend Indiana University in Bloomington, has her own mix of Gee’s hats. Jocie said not to worry about Lexi once school starts.

“We can send her off knowing her head will be warm,” Jocie said.

Gee was born in Seymour but calls herself an Army brat living around the world as she grew up. Then she was an Air Force wife. Eventually, Gee moved back to Seymour in 1979.

Gee became Hats ‘R Us after her illness. She could make other items, but some of them, such as afghans, are harder to complete.

“They’re a lot more work,” she said.

No matter how many hats Gee makes, they all go out the door as donations to community service organizations and health care facilities. Sometimes, they are given away for special occasions. This batch of 227 will go to Mental Health America and The Arc’s mentally and physically disabled clients.

“They will go to our program called the Christmas Gift Lift,” said Donna Persinger in the Seymour office.

The COVID-19 pandemic derailed recent group holiday celebrations, Persinger said, but there is optimism an event can take place in 2022 where these hats can be featured.

“We’re hoping for a Christmas party this year,” she said.

If it is possible there is too much of a good thing, such as overeating turkey at a holiday dinner, Gee’s granddaughter, Dakota, in Nicholasville, Kentucky, who has four kids of her own ages 1 to 8, has asked for a cease and desist on the hats.

“She told me not to send anymore,” Gee said.

Not to worry. There are other customers who don’t have even one Carol Gee hat, and they’ll take them off her hands.

There’s a hat for everyone. Carol Gee, daughter Amber and granddaughter Jocie all show off hats Gee made and has donated to The Arc of Jackson County.

Lew Freedman | The Tribune

Although Carol Gee spends much of her free time making hats, she doesn’t wear them, though this time, she agreed to model one of her own.

Lew Freedman | The Tribune

Carol Gee’s selection of hats for winter use borrow from every color in the rainbow — and more.

Lew Freedman | The Tribune

Carol Gee with daughter Amber Turner and granddaughter Jocie Turner.

Lew Freedman | The Tribune