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Artistry trumps adversity: Park Forest woman with MS shifts gears, writes book

Karen DeWitt displays her creations — quilt her book 'The Bunco Club' — her sewing room her home Park Forest.  |

Karen DeWitt displays her creations — a quilt, and her book, "The Bunco Club" — in her sewing room at her home in Park Forest. | Jaime Angio~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 3, 2014 2:23PM



Playing Bunco is not just about rolling dice. It’s a time-honored tradition for women who get together for friendship, laughter, spirits and an ever-so-tasty edible display.

The players are brought together by a common denominator, whether they’re neighbors, co-workers, family or friends who share similar interests.

“You look forward to Bunco,” said Karen DeWitt, 63, of Park Forest, who even authored a book called “The Bunco Club.” “It’s a night out. You scream, you laugh, you cry sometimes. It’s just a great thing to know that date is on the calendar every month.”

For nearly 23 years, DeWitt, a married mother of one and a professional artist, has been playing Bunco with the same group of gals, her fellow quilters.

“There are eight of us, and seven of us are original after all those years,” she said.

Being part of a Bunco club gave DeWitt the inspiration to write “The Bunco Club,” which earned her a nomination as a finalist for the 2013 Book of the Year Award by the Chicago Writers Association, in the nontraditionally published fiction category.

“It’s a book about friendship,” DeWitt said. “It’s eight quilters that get together once a month for Bunco. You don’t have to know about quilting and you don’t have to know about Bunco to enjoy the book. If you like women’s relationship books, that’s what it is. It’s a friendship book.”

As a first-time author, DeWitt published the book independently in April. Earning a nomination for a prestigious award came as a surprise to her.

“In November, the email came and I saw ‘book of the year award finalist announced,’ and I was getting ready to sit down and eat and I thought, ‘I’m not going to look at this, there is no point, I know I didn’t get it,’ ” she said. “I nearly dropped over when I saw my name on there, I was just so pleased and honored and so excited and happy, it really was a moment for me, it was a validating moment.”

It also was a moment that helped DeWitt — who also sews and is a pastel painter, quilter and fine artist — realize her creativity has no limitations.

She sketched out another creative avenue for herself after losing most of the ability in her right hand to draw, due to multiple sclerosis.

“I did a lot of professional art, and in 1987, I was diagnosed with MS, and as the MS over the years was running its course, it has limited my right hand of fine motor skills. I don’t have much sense of feeling in my right hand anymore,” she said.

The idea to write the book came to her about nine years ago as she was enduring a creative transition.

“I was in my studio and I was trying to figure out how I could continue doing artwork. It’s that creative thing again,” she said. “It was a ‘poof,’ a ‘boom.’ I always liked to write, and I thought, ‘I would like to write a book about a Bunco group.’ ”

DeWitt had written poetry as a child and in her early 20s. It was while she was growing up in Mundelein, she said, that her parents took notice of her vast artistic abilities.

“When I was quite young, my parents surprisingly saw this and sent me to oil painting classes,” she said. “All my life that’s all I wanted to be was an artist, and that’s all anyone expected me to be was an artist.”

DeWitt studied at College of Lake County and earned an associate’s degree in arts and went on to study at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. She earned her master’s in fine arts from SIU in 1977.

After college, DeWitt and Bob Barber, her husband of 35 years, opened Frame Masters, Ltd. in Matteson, a shop that specializes in art sales and custom picture framing.

While DeWitt was being a mother, wife, artist and co-owner of a business, she said it took eight years to write “The Bunco Club.”

“In those eight years, I didn’t write every single day. There were times that I did and there were times that months went by and I didn’t,” she said. “Writing it didn’t take so long; the rewrites are what takes so long and getting it the way you just want it to be.”

To gain more writing knowledge, DeWitt attended the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival.

“I knew there was a whole lot I didn’t know about writing and I wanted to learn as much as I could,” she said. “I went to several classes out there and did as much as I could.”

DeWitt said she experienced small struggles along the way.

“Because my hand doesn’t work quite right, I can’t feel the keys on the computer, so I look at the keys and then look up at the screen. If my hand is really bad, I just type with my left hand,” she said. “Everybody copes with things, it’s just how you cope with what you have to do.”

DeWitt couldn’t be any happier with the response from the release of “The Bunco Club.”

“I’m going to quilt shows and quilt guilds and book signings,” she said. “I’m having a ball with this.”

As for the ladies from her Bunco group?

“They have known me as an artist all these years. They’ve been supportive,” she said.

DeWitt is setting out to write an entire “The Bunco Club” series.

“The next four books will be ‘Quilters of the Bunco Club.’ Each book will focus on two women,” she said. “I’m really having fun and really excited about the books. I just can’t write fast enough. I’m very happy that at my age I’m beginning a new dream. I get the same excitement writing a book that I do with a piece of artwork.”

“The Bunco Club” is available at amazon.com, including a Kindle version, and is expected to be available at audible.com in February.



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