Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series on local individuals who make the ninth-annual Mix and Mingle Dinner and Formal Dance a special celebration for the special party-goers.
ESCANABA - As each woman saw her image in the mirror in the gown she had chosen to wear to the annual Pathways Formal Dance, the pleasure was immediately evident. This dress was just what she dreamed of wearing.
This was the image that seamstresses Jeannie Minnick and Shirley Benson saw time after time as the attendees tried on an assortment of formal dresses and gowns until they found just the right one. And the necessary alterations were begun.
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
Pathways prom-goer Monica Willette, at right, shares a chuckle with seamstress, Jeannie Minnick, as she is being fitted for a formal dress to wear to the Pathways Formal Dance. Jeannie has assisted with the dresses alterations for the event for the past two years. Shirley Benson of Gladstone, who worked with Pathways to help with alterations for about eight years, took a leave of absence from the task for health reasons but hopes to return next spring.
Jeanne, who does alterations in her own home, has been fitting the formal-wear on the women with special needs for the past two years. In her first year, she fitted about seven or eight women. This year she outfitted 14.
There are generally about 100 gowns that are recycled year after year for use by the women, said Jeannie. "Almost all of them are donated and some of them are brand new with the price tags still on them."
Jeannie said someone went to the trouble of organizing the dresses and gowns in categories and sizes this year and had them available on large racks to make selections even more easily available for when the women were ready to select a gown.
"That helped big time!" she said.
She said watching the transformation is a special pleasure for her as she works with the attendees. As she guides each woman through the selection process, she said she attempts to make suggestions throughout the process.
"I might tell them a particular dress might not be right for her skin-tone and suggest a different color," said Jeanne. "I also help them select a dress that is appropriate for their age. Some might want a little bit showing up front while others might want everything covered."
She also suggests the women try on a number of dresses if they are willing.
"There are some who come in with a color they have already in their mind-set and don't want to compromise," she said. "Our whole purpose is to make them happy so we try to accommodate them."
Jeannie admitted that some of the women have difficulty making a selection and only need a little encouragement to find a dress she is happy with.
"When she tries on a dress - let's say it's a brown one - and I tell her, 'That color looks gorgeous on you with your hair color," said Jeannie. "That might be all it takes to make her happy."
A photo album that Pathways Formal Events coordinator, Brenda Crow, updates each year sometimes comes in handy when the women make a selection.
"One girl might say, 'I like the dress that Sherry had on last year,' and I'll look in the photo album so see what Sherry was wearing and check to see if the dress is still available."
Even as the alteration process is carried out, Jeannie said she attempts to keep the gown relatively in tact for selection from year to year.
"Some might only need a little taken in or shortened," she said. "Others might not need anything done at all. I might have a girl who's 5-feet-1 and there's 12 inches on the bottom of the gown when I go to hem it for her. I won't just cut it off because the next girl to wear will probably need it longer."
Jeannie said she charges just a small fee for her services and if there is someone unable to pay, money is provided with the proceeds from fund-raising efforts.
Like Jeannie, Shirley Benson offered her services at the request of Brenda Crow. She had performed alterations for about eight years, for the most part free of charge, before a serious health issue put her plans on hold for the past two years.
"But now I'm fine and ready to help again," she said.
Shirley said her ability to sew and do alterations is "A mission from God."
"I feel God gave me the ability and I have all kinds of sewing machines to use," she said. "I can take a size 5 dress and make it fit a size 20. I just add a gusset or two and make it look good. Then when I look at it and see it when it's all done and consider the time it took to get it to that place, it's more than worth it."
Both women were strong in their expressions of happiness in their ability to help others.
"When they finally look at themselves in the mirror, they look like they're in Seventh-Heaven," Jeannie said. "They look at themselves all dressed up and they're so happy."
Shirley expressed the same satisfaction, saying, "That's the best part when I help the ladies and then see them looking in the mirror with the biggest smile on their faces when they see how pretty they look. My heart swells up and I'm really happy to do this for them."