North Ogden woman makes dresses for little girls in Africa

Apr 5 2011 - 10:44pm

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(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) 
Marie Vondrus sits Monday with dresses she has made at her home in North Ogden. Vondrus makes dresses and donates them to Little Dresses for Africa, a nonprofit organization that sends dresses to young girls in Africa.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) 
Marie Vondrus sits Monday with dresses she has made at her home in North Ogden. Vondrus makes dresses and donates them to Little Dresses for Africa, a nonprofit organization that sends dresses to young girls in Africa.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) 
Marie Vondrus sits Monday with dresses she has made at her home in North Ogden. Vondrus makes dresses and donates them to Little Dresses for Africa, a nonprofit organization that sends dresses to young girls in Africa.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) 
Marie Vondrus sits Monday with dresses she has made at her home in North Ogden. Vondrus makes dresses and donates them to Little Dresses for Africa, a nonprofit organization that sends dresses to young girls in Africa.

NORTH OGDEN -- One evening while watching the national news, Marie Vondrus saw a story that pulled at her heartstrings.

Little girls in Africa were in desperate need of clothing, particularly a little dress to make them feel feminine and pretty. Vondrus immediately knew she could help.

"I was so excited. I just thought, 'Oh my gosh, I can do this.' I asked my husband what he thought, and he agreed," she said.

Vondrus, who is 78 years old, thought she would make 25 dresses, but when she reached that number, she decided to make 25 more. She still didn't stop there. Last week she finished her 87th dress and is working toward a goal of 100. After she sends those off, she said, she'll start over.

"I will start again and go as far as I can," she said. "I also want to make some pants for the little boys."

The story Vondrus saw on the news is about an organization called Little Dresses for Africa (littledressesforafrica.org). The nonprofit company provides relief to the children of Africa by making simple dresses out of pillow cases, which are distributed to churches, schools and orphanages.

Vondrus doesn't make her dresses out of pillow cases, but uses a pillow case pattern and picks out different colors and patterns of material from the fabric store. If she has material left over, she will sew on a pocket or add a colorful stripe at the bottom of the dress.

"It is so much fun," she said. "I had a heart operation and all kinds of things, and since I started with those little dresses I am so happy you cannot believe. I just feel joy. I think I've gotten 10 years younger."

Vondrus began sewing when she was in high school in Austria, where she was born and raised. She was about 14 years old at the time.

"We had a homemaking class, and they taught us to knit, sew and crochet. It was there that I made my first dress," she said. "I loved the class, and I had a wonderful teacher. I even wanted to go to school and be a homemaking teacher, but we didn't have the money. My father was still not home from the war, and there was no place to learn how to sew."

When Vondrus came to America in 1955, she started taking sewing classes.

"I went everywhere I could to learn to sew," she said. "I even got carpal tunnel syndrome and had to stop for a while, but then I heard Brian Williams on the news and he was telling about these little children in Africa who needed help. I had to help."

As word spread about Vondrus' project, friends and family members have pitched in by buying some of the fabric and other materials.

"When I finish making the dresses, I will send them to Michigan and they will send them to Africa," she said. "Once a year, a person takes the dresses and delivers them to the little girls. They said they would even try to get some pictures for me of the little girls wearing the dresses. I would love to see that."

Vondrus said she will continue making the dresses as long as she is able.

"I am having so much fun. I think my husband enjoys this as much as I do," she said. "It just makes me feel so good. Every little girl should feel pretty, and every little girl needs a pretty dress."

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