SIOUX CITY -- In the basement of St. John Lutheran Church on a cold November night, Jeanne Hinrichsen read aloud a real-life story she had written about an estate sale that occurred decades earlier.
Hinrichsen, a retired statistician, grocery store owner and secretary, wrote about discovering blocks of unused fabrics, which had been in the possession of an unknown farm wife in Plymouth County.
The material, now frayed with age, was much too delicate to be sewn onto a quilt. Instead, Hinrichsen cut the mismatched material into the shape of hearts. She then affixed the heart shapes to homemade Christmas cards sent to family and friends.
"I tried to imagine the life of a farm wife, who collected blocks of material from clothing once worn by family members," Hinrichsen explained to the nine people in attendance. "The farm wife may never have gotten around to making this specific quilt, but her memories -- and the memory of her past family members -- lived on in a collection of Christmas cards."
Since January 2018, Hinrichsen has led a twice-monthly St. John Christian Writers and Listeners Group at the 2801 Jackson St. church. Even though a prayer is recited at the start of each meeting, writing isn't limited to Scripture.
Personal essays, short stories, poetry and anecdotes are shared at 1:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of every month, and at 7 p.m. the fourth Thursday of every month.
However, Hinrichsen is quick to point out that this is not a creative writing class and she's not a teacher.
"I simply wanted to create an environment where well-written pieces could be shared," she explained. "Writing is a reflection of what is inside each writer's heart. It is also something that can be shared and appreciated by others."
Growing up in Creighton, Nebraska, Hinrichsen dreamed of becoming a writer.
"I loved writing but life kept getting in the way," the now-Sioux City resident said.
It was only when her boyfriend Larry Steinbrecher was recovering from cancer surgery that Hinrichsen decided to spearhead a writer's group.
"We had so much on our plates but I felt a nudge to share my writing with a larger audience," she remembered. "I shared my idea with my pastor (the Rev. Jeff Swanson), who told me that the nudge was not for me alone. The nudge was also for the benefit of others."
Hinrichsen certainly motivated Steinbrecher, who considered himself more of a storyteller than a writer.
"Once Jeanne gets an idea, she goes all in," he said. "Whether it has to do with her writing or her quilting, Jeanne never quits."
This is good news for Anna Barnes, who had been writing poetry for most of her adult life.
"It was my husband Leo, who encouraged my writing," Barnes, of Sioux City, said. "When Leo died (in 2010), my motivation to write went away."
That is, until Hinrichsen's writers group gave Barnes an enthusiastic audience.
"When I hear Anna's poetry, all I can think of is 'you go, girl!'" said writers group member Joyce Kaiser. "Anna's husband may be gone but his spirit is still around, encouraging her to keep on writing."
Which is exactly the sort of encouragement Hinrichsen wants people to receive from the group.
"This is not a group for professional writers," she said. "Instead, it is a group for people who love to share a part of their heart through writing. Writing can be such a solitary thing. Our group will give you a chance to nurture your voice through positive feedback."