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The Red Rooster Stitchery
in Newburgh, Indiana
by Rita Vainius

Today, Newburgh, Indiana on the shores of the Ohio River, is a quaint historic town. But, in the 1850's, Newburgh was actually the largest river port between Cincinnati and New Orleans. When John Sprinkle landed on its shores in 1803 to establish a settlement, it seemed the perfect place to build his home site just as many believe it is today.

One such resident is Peggy Wilhelmus, the proprietor of the Red Rooster Stitchery. Peggy has entrepreneurship in her blood. Her father, John Gentil's, parents operated a family restaurant called Gentil's Café. When Peggy's mom, Freida, later remarried, she worked with her husband in their own business, Brown's Boats and Motors.

Peggy Wilhelmus
Owner of the Red Rooster Stitchery

Peggy grew up in the larger town of Mt. Vernon, also on the Ohio River and spent every weekend swimming, water skiing and boating in its waters She tagged along after her older brother, Robert, but also loved playing with her dolls. At 12, Peggy became fascinated with antiques and began her first collection, seeking out old saltcellars, of which she now possesses over 100. She branched out into acquiring other items, being especially appreciative of objects made by hand. Even as a child she recognized the talent, skill, patience and craftsmanship that creating them entailed. Peggy, not surprisingly, refers to herself as a sentimental "pack rat," a trait that influenced her choice of the Red Rooster Stitchery's motto: "Where Heirlooms Begin."

The strongest impact upon the direction Peggy's life has taken has been her own upbringing. Grandmother Gentil always had needle in hand, most often a crochet hook. She taught Peggy a variety of needlework techniques. Grandma's Christmas present to Peggy, when she was 8, was a suitcase brimming with doll clothes made for Peggy's Terri Lee doll. There were scores of hand-stitched mix-and-match outfits replete with ruffles, ribbons, belt loops and miniature buttons and accessories such as beach towels, hats, shawls and handbags. At least 80 of these treasured items remain in Peggy's possession to this day and are lovingly taken out of storage to grace her Christmas tree. Her uniquely decorated tree has even been featured on a local TV station to exemplify the true meaning of Christmas ­ "The Gift of Love."

Peggy's Christmas Tree
Decorated with Her Grandmother's
Handmade Doll Clothes

Peggy's childhood artistic pursuits resulted in, among other things, winning a poster contest in grade school and, as a teenager, fashioning the dress she wore at her brother's wedding. After high school Peggy attended Indiana State College. While pursuing her studies she worked at the Mead Johnson Company as a lab technician doing vitamin analysis in the quality control department. Peggy adds, "I do believe this job helped me to train my eye for proportion and scale," an exceedingly useful skill in her current vocation.

While Peggy had engaged in embroidery projects of various kinds over the years, it was not until she was married and expecting a child, Scott Michael that she took up needlepoint. She purchased her needlework supplies from a local shop owned by Jo Gess and her daughter, Vicki Perry. They asked Peggy to come work for them, which she did when Scott was nine years old. A year and half later she was invited to attend market in Atlanta. On the return trip, Jo asked if Peggy would be interested in buying the business! Peggy elaborates, "After the initial excitement, it was time for prayer and figuring out the finances."

Peggy took ownership on September 1, 1981 and immediately made some radical changes. She relocated the shop from a building on a country road to a house in downtown Newburgh, doubling its size in the process. Peggy also increased the number of days the shop was open from 3 to 5 days a week. These alterations had an immediate positive impact in transforming the business. After renting for 4 years, Peggy purchased the home that housed her shop, a lovely circa 1890's Victorian cottage. A plaque on the house identifies it as being built by the Cooch Family in 1891. Henry and Caroline Cooch are responsible for contributing greatly to the progress of Newburgh at the turn of the century.

Five Rooms within the home are devoted entirely to needlework. The Front Room features a variety of stunning hand painted canvases, another holds threads and fibers of every variety; there are even separate rooms designated for Christmas and Cross Stitch. A fifth room displays yet more canvases, has seven shelves of books and is stocked with embellishments such as Mill Hill beads. An anonymous source has informed Peggy that the house harbors a benevolent guardian angel. We're inclined to believe it.

Aside from the dramatic changes in location and schedule, Peggy considerably increased the shop's inventory and has continued to do so throughout her tenure. The shop specializes in needlepoint, offering pre-worked, charts and hand painted canvases galore, as well as catering to cross-stitchers with patterns, fabrics and accessories.

Peggy, herself, is especially thrilled herself with the fabulous assortment of threads and fibers that have been made available to stitchers in recent years. Her selection of the Caron Collection includes the full line of Soie Cristale, Impressions and Snow and selected colors of Waterlilies, Watercolours and Wildflowers. Special orders are always welcomed and accommodated readily. Peggy and her staff of three, Pat Mazu, Elizabeth Condi and Stacy Connors, are aces in color and thread selection. Offered as well are custom design and finishing services.

 Pat Mazu

  Elizabeth Condi

 Stacy Connors

Staff of the Red Rooster Stitchery

The shop carries several exclusives. One of these is a unique hand painted canvas design of a Newburgh Santa by Brenda Stofft. Peggy elaborates, "Kathy Schenkel recently designed our 'Rise and Shine' Santa (with a rooster, naturally) to help celebrate our 20th year in business." A stitch guide has been created for this local favorite.

Classes are held intermittently and individual instruction is always available by appointment. Teachers include Peggy and staff members, Stacy and Pat. Pat's classes often feature her own designs. Guest instructors include Susan Burge and Brenda Stofft. A recent class project featured the "Rise and Shine" Santa. Later this summer, Brenda Stofft has a class planned for a new custom designed series consisting of a needlework case featuring a rooster, a scissors case with a hen motif and a needle case depicting an egg.

Several trunk shows are held each year at the Red Rooster Stitchery, there is a periodic newsletter and the sale table is a permanent fixture. June is slated for a Patti Mann Trunk Show. A gala celebration, which will showcase customer's projects, is planned for August. The last event of this kind was held for the shop's 15th anniversary when over 150 pieces were on display.

Because of Peggy's ongoing commitment to supplying all the best and newest that the stitching industry has to offer, she has earned the loyalty not only of local stitchers but ones who drive several hours to shop at the Red Rooster Stitchery on a regular basis.

Located in Warrick County, Newburgh was originally named Sprinklesburg. Though wharves along the Ohio River are no longer stacked with the wealth of back country produce as in the 19th century, the town retains its historic flavor. Lovely period homes dot the riverbanks and century old buildings line the downtown corridor. The town's favorite vantage point is at the foot of Water Street where both locals and visitors can enjoy picture perfect sunsets over the river.

If following the Ohio River through Indiana, you'll discover a true bit of Americana in Newburgh. And be sure to stop in at the Red Rooster Stitchery... Peggy can prove she's got plenty to crow about!

Red Rooster Stitchery
502 W. Jennings Street
Newburgh, IN 47630
Phone: (812) 853- 9657
Shop Hours: Tues. through Sat. 10:30 am to 4:30 pm


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