When I heard that the Women's Downtown Bettendorf Task Force was selling Christmas ornaments featuring a scene of the iconic Interstate 74 bridge as a fundraiser, I knew right away I had to get one.

I love the bridge's graceful spans, and it won't be around much long longer. For just $8 apiece, the ornaments seemed like the perfect for a friend, with one for me too.

But when I stopped at the Beréskin Gallery & Art Academy at 2967 State St. two weeks ago to buy one, gallery owner and task force member Pat Beréskin said the ornaments had sold out.

Within 24 hours, the initial run of 160 was gone, and members of the women's group were taking names for reorders.

"Every time we turned around and thought we were done, people kept coming up," Beréskin said.

The more questions I asked, the more angles this story sprouted.


First, the image for the ornament is a copy of an acrylic painting created in July by Patricia "Jean" Johnson, of Davenport, during the Plein Air (French for "outdoors") Paint Out along the Mississippi River, presented by the Beréskin gallery.

Johnson, who donated use of the image for the ornament, said it was a "very gray day" when she first set up her paint supplies in Leach Park. But as time passed, the sun began to hit parts of the bridge and the daylilies growing along the shore.

And as she painted, it occurred to her that "the daylilies will come back, but the bridge will be gone," she said.

"It was kind of a nostalgic feeling, and it was that kind of feeling that I wanted to capture," she said. "I was painting the feeling, and hoping the feeling would be communicated. That's the reason why we paint, to communicate, to communicate our feelings and our view."


When I asked Johnson about her background, it turns out that she picked up art later in life — something I'm always happy to hear now that I am getting to later life.

Johnson taught piano in a private studio for 29 years and also music theory for non-majors at St. Ambrose University. But it wasn't until mid-life that she decided to formally study art, and she eventually received a degree from St. Ambrose.

She enjoys landscapes, still life and florals. She also recently completed a portrait of her granddaughter.

The day of the Paint Out proved to be a turning point for her artwork. As her acrylic paint dried quickly in the outdoor air, she decided she would switch to an oil that stays soft for a longer period of time, allowing her to work with it longer. "I just feel so satisfied because that is the classical medium," she said.


Ornament sales were a fundraiser for the Jefferson/Lourdes Neighborhood Christmas Project spearheaded by Steve Gustafson, an environmental geologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, his wife, Angie, a pre-K teacher at Lourdes Catholic School, and their children, Emma, 17, and Jack, 13.

This is the 11th year of the project that got its start when Emma was a first-grader at Jefferson and the family became aware of a classmate whose family wasn't doing very well. They asked the principal if they could help anonymously. Social workers from the school and the city helped to connect the Gustafsons with families in need and the project grew.

Gustafson recruited more donors, and in 10 years, the project has helped 95 families and 23 senior citizens.

This year, 19 families and 20 seniors are being helped, bringing the new total to 114 families and 43 seniors helped, Gustafson said.

The women's task force got involved when the group was looking for a holiday service project that would help area families, and one of its members suggested Gustafson.

Families generally need children's clothes — shoes and winter coats — and arts and crafts so the kids have something to play with, Gustafson said. Parents need necessities such as silverware, toilet paper and pots and pans. Seniors ask for sock and sweaters. "Last year a man asked for funny T-shirts," he said.

Each gift is accompanied by a card, and everything is anonymous. Recipients don't know the donors and the donors don't know the recipients.

I greatly admire the Gustafsons for doing this. They saw a need and did something about it. What would the world be like if more people were like this? (she wondered, thinking of herself.)


And the good just keeps on coming.

While group members hoped to raise $1,000 for the Gustafson project, they actually will net four times that — $4,000! — if all the ornaments currently in production (for a total of 600) are sold, once expenses have been subtracted.

With this extra money, the group will be able to help two other worthy causes, the Greater Bettendorf Community Foundation and the Angel Project, a fund administered by the Bettendorf Community School District that helps buy necessities for needy students referred by counselors.


And now, to answer the essential question: Yes, a few ornaments remain. Call Pat at 563-508-4630 for availability. But once they are gone, no more will be made.

The ornaments are 2 inches by 3 inches. A larger, 7 ½-inch by 5½-inch version costs $15.

The original painting also has been sold.


Finally, thanks to all the women who constructed and sold ornaments. In addition to the Beréskin gallery, they include owners/volunteers from Concept Bath, Frymoyer Fabrication & Supply, K&K True Value Hardware, State Street Interiors and Tango Salon.