Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

ALBANY -- Valentine's Day means something different for everyone. For some it's romance. For others the amorous holiday is a celebration of friendship or the love of family. For Eilene Kuiper of Albany, it's an opportunity to lift the spirits of younger brother Bud Palsrok, who is bed-ridden with ataxia, a terminal neurological disorder similar to Lou Gehrig's disease.

"It's a virus that hits the brainstem," 73-year-old Kuiper explained. "He's 65 and has had it since 1993."

The ailment has progressed to the point that it has left Kuiper's brother bed-ridden for more than four years in his Muskegon, Mich. home. So Kuiper plans to cheer him with valentines sent through the mail.

The twist is that the terms of endearment will be used to decorate the Christmas tree his wife, Jan Palsrok, leaves up through Feb. 14.

"He loves the Christmas tree," Kuiper said. "Up in Michigan the days are long and cold."

So in 2008, his wife thought the tree might provide some joy for Palsrok, who is fed by tubes and breathes with help from an oxygen supply.

"She did it last year, and she's doing it again this year," Kuiper said.

This time around, Kuiper decided to enhance the idea by making valentines to send to hang as ornaments on her brother's tree. But instead of taking on the task alone, she has enlisted help from members of Christ United Methodist Church on Byron Plantation Road.

"I've asked our church, in our Sunday school classes, to make some," she said.

As a result, people in Kuiper's congregation from 2-90 years old have contributed cards.

"I'm sending them all to Bud," she said.

That includes some of Kuiper's own creations, which combine red or pink paper backgrounds topped with intricate designs cut from white paper into various valentine scenes.

The project is one that Kuiper just thought of a couple of weeks ago. But since then, it has grown beyond the Good Life City, as her four grown children, who live as close as Leesburg and as far west as Texas, have involved their own families and churches in the endeavor.

"We've got over 100 valentines going to him (Palsrok)," Kuiper said.

The grandmother of 14 pointed out that her valentine project demonstrates that it doesn't take much effort to let others know you care.

"You don't have to be a college graduate to do something for somebody," Kuiper said.

She, instead, considers it biblically based.

"My favorite verse in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:13, which says, 'And the greatest of these is love,'" Kuiper said. "That's talking about faith, hope and love."

All she has to do is be willing to spread that love in order for projects to come to mind.

"Sometimes things just pop into my head," Kuiper said. "The Lord puts them there."

But Palsrok won't be the only one to benefit from Kuiper's efforts.

"I send valentines to all of my grandchildren," she said.

Kuiper also sends cards to members of her church when there's a need.

"I have a card ministry," the great-grandmother of five said.

Instead of buying cards for that ministry, Kuiper puts her creativity to work each time by fashioning cards for recipients. Some are scenes made by folding paper. Others are intricate scenes made with Kuiper's precise cut of the scissors and accented with ribbon.

Creativity is nothing new in the Kuiper household. After all, she sews, too.

"I made most all my kids' clothes, right up until they got married," she said. "I even made their wedding dresses."

Her husband of 53 years, 74-year-old Ron, also has an artistic streak.

"Ron likes photography," Kuiper said.

And they've passed those knacks on to their children, who express themselves with painting, sewing, playing a musical instrument or some other outlet.

But that creative legacy doesn't begin with Kuiper and her husband.

"My mother was creative," Kuiper said. "She did lots of beadwork, crocheted, tatted, painted and sewed all of our clothes."

She even recalls her grandmother's knack for making things. But, Kuiper recalled, she and her husband also got their talent from the men in the family.

"My dad was a wood-working man," she said, "and Ron's dad built houses."

Kuiper has built on the foundation of that legacy, pairing with a desire to get others involved in truly sharing the love this Valentine's Day.