MINOOKA – Marge Schlekeway of Minooka never will forget the angel bead and prayer shawl Bonelyn “Bonnie” Moss, 80, of Minooka gave to her adult daughter, Anne, when she was battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Now that Moss – known as “the angel lady” – has refused treatments for colon cancer, she is unable to hand-paint and distribute as many angels as she has in the past.
So Schlekeway, also an artist, is helping out. Schlekeway estimates she has painted about 300 of theses “symbols of love” in the last year, nowhere near the 3,500 Moss’ daughter, JoDonna Gautschy, said Moss has done.
Schlekeway, whose daughter has died since that first contact with Moss, is happy to do it. She praised Moss’ cheerfulness and servant’s heart, especially to other seniors.
“She’s helped so many people by picking them up and taking them to the doctor, grocery store or drug store,” Schlekeway said. “Sometimes, she just sat and talked with them.”
Moss said the angel ministry derived from a TV show. During the program, Moss said, someone on the show remarked how after she had lost a daughter, someone comforted her through the gift of an angel.
For Moss, who said she’s very mission-minded, this was just the inspiration she needed. She had lost her husband, Jack Moss, to complications from Alzheimer’s in 2007 and needed an outreach project.
So Moss, an artist who has painted acrylic on glass for wedding presents, bought a bag of glass beads and began painting. She learned quickly to bake the beads after painting them, after one recipient said she had forgotten the bead in her pants pocket.
“The paint came right off in the laundry,” Moss said.
At first, Moss gave the angels to her family and friends, but as others saw them, more people wanted them. Soon, Moss was taking angels with her wherever she went, whether that was bingo or the hospital for cancer treatments.
“She even gave me a bagful to give to the kids,” said Gautschy, who teaches special education and assists with musical programs at Joliet Central High School.
Happy recipients occasionally make donations to Moss for materials. Moss shops around for the best deals. She prefers not to pay more than $7 a bag for the beads. Red beads, although popular, are the most expensive.
Ideally, Moss paints 50 angels a day – 25 in the morning and 25 at night – making sure to first wipe down the beads with alcohol to remove any fingerprints. It’s not really possible, Moss said, to paint more at one time.
“They’re too tiny,” Moss said. “If I focus too long on them, it’s too intense, so I’ll put it aside.”
Next to Moss’ recliner sit two bags of glass beads, waiting for Moss to feel well enough to paint them. Gautschy believes the simplicity of her mother’s angel design is deceiving.
“It looks easy to do,” Gautschy said, “but when you really look at it, you see that it’s hard to paint.”
Moss did not begin painting until later in life, she said, although she used to quilt baby blankets for a Christian organization that distributed them to hospitals.
When she was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004, Moss said she was her husband’s caretaker, although cancer didn’t interfere with her responsibilities toward him.
“I didn’t do any deep cleaning, and I fed him the food people brought me,” Moss said. “Some things were beyond my power.”
As an ecumenical Christian, Moss said she likes that angels have a nonthreatening way of crossing denominations.
“I just tell people it’s to remind them they are not alone,” Moss said. “I don’t want to offend anybody.”
Moss’ cancer returned in 2013, Gautschy said. It’s now in her liver, pelvis and lungs. She considers Moss an inspiration, one who prays to God in good times as well as in bad.
“She lives a life that’s true,” Gautschy said. “She reaches out to people, says kind things to them and has a way of making the room come alive.”