VINTON–Barbara Pedigo Dillon will celebrate her ninetieth birthday on March 5, 2013. Except for a few years spent living right across the city line in Roanoke during World War II, she has spent all of those years in Vinton.
Dillon was born on Maple Street in her grandmother’s home, which is still standing. Her birth was attended by Dr. R.H. Garthright, who delivered 1,939 area babies over the course of his 55 year career. For most of her childhood, her family lived on Cleveland Avenue next to Vinton Elementary School, now known as Roland E. Cook Elementary.
She remembers the days when the homes in Town had gardens and livestock, there were few cars, and she rode the streetcar from Vinton to Roanoke to shop on weekends.
In fact, her recollections about the Vinton area and its families are legendary. Dillon has documented much of Vinton’s past for the Vinton Historical Society and the Vinton History Museum, both of which she was instrumental in founding in the 1980’s at the time of Vinton’s Centennial celebration. She still spends one morning each week as a volunteer at the Museum, archiving materials for the collection.
Dillon graduated from William Byrd High School in 1940, and was accepted for admission to both Ferrum and Berea Colleges, but in the waning years of the Depression, she instead accepted a job with Stone Printing Company, making thirty cents an hour. She eventually worked for the company for 38 years in the composing department.
In 1941, Dillon married Fred Dillon. They had met on a blind date arranged by his cousin and her best friend the weekend before her high school graduation.
In time, the couple built a home on Clearview Drive, near the Dillon Woods subdivision, which was originally the Dillon dairy farm, belonging to Fred’s uncle.
Dillon has outlived her husband, who died in 1978, and two of her four children. She and her son Kevin and his wife Julie now reside together in Vinton. She has six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Throughout her life, Dillon has been actively involved in a myriad of activities in the community and has received recognition for her efforts at work, in civic organizations, and at church.
Nowadays the activity that occupies a predominant place in her life combines two of her passions: Vinton Baptist Church and sewing.
Dillon has been a lifelong member of Vinton Baptist and remains an honorary deacon. Her mother was one of its first members.
“I was carried there as a baby,” said Dillon. “I taught Sunday School for 67 years to all age groups starting back in 1937.”
Dillon learned to sew in 4-H Club in high school and made clothes during World War II for teachers, children, friends, and neighbors. She began sewing doll clothes when her first daughter was born, using leftover fabric from her other projects.
Now she is well known in the Vinton community and at Vinton Baptist for the doll clothes she creates each year for the Salvation Army Christmas doll drive. This past Christmas, Dillon made outfits for 120 dolls, 97 of them destined for the Salvation Army to give to struggling families as part of the Angel Tree program.
The Salvation Army supplies the basic dolls to volunteers from church and civic groups throughout the Valley, who sew outfits or purchase handmade outfits from other volunteers and return the dressed dolls to the organization in early December.
At Vinton Baptist, the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) is in charge of the project, but Sunday School classes and individuals also participate.
The Salvation Army notifies the church when boxes of dolls are available to be picked up in early summer. They are repacked and returned to the organization for distribution once they are dressed in their finery. Vinton Baptist generally requests 100 dolls, in a variety of ethnicities, hair, and eye colors, to dress each year.
Dillon charges WMU members $5.00 for each outfit she sews for the Salvation Army dolls, and in turn donates that money to Vinton Baptist’s Lottie Moon Christmas offering.
She usually starts on the serious sewing in mid-summer, although she gathers supplies and ideas year round.
Velma Kendrick and her husband Jack, from Vinton Baptist delivered the dolls this year to a nearby Salvation Army facility, along with about 60 Christmas stockings the WMU filled for the Salvation Army to distribute at the same time.
“Barbara Dillon deserves all the praise in the world for the doll clothes,” said Kendrick. “She makes over 95% of the outfits we send to the Salvation Army. She is a perfectionist and really takes care with them, making each one special.”
In her spare time, when she’s not sewing or volunteering, Dillon keeps busy with other projects. Her walls are covered with paintings she made in a Bob Ross class. She is adept with her computer. She travels.
“I always like to have something going,” said Dillon.
Life has held its challenges, but Dillon has a favorite devotional reading sent to her by a friend which explains her philosophy expressed in “Lord Prop Us Up”:
“When I am asked to pray, I think of the old deacon who always asked, ‘Lord, prop us up on our leanin’ side.’ When asked to explain, he replied, ‘I got an old barn out back. It’s been there a long time; it’s withstood a lot of weather; it’s gone through a lot of storms, and it’s still standing. One day I noticed it was leaning to one side. So I went and propped it up on its leaning side so it wouldn’t fall. I got to thinking about how I was like that old barn. I’ve been around a long time, and withstood a lot of life’s storms, and I’m still standing too. But I find myself leaning to one side from time to time. I ask the Lord to prop us up on our leaning side, because I figure a lot of us get to leaning at times. Sometimes we get to leaning toward anger, leaning toward bitterness, leaning toward things we shouldn’t. So we need to pray, ‘Lord, prop us up on our leaning side, so we will stand straight and tall, to glorify the Lord.”