Jeanetta Holder, ‘Quilt Lady of the Indy 500,’ dies at 91

Published 3:52 pm Friday, January 5, 2024

By Jack Dobbs, Bowling Green Daily News

BOWLING GREEN — Jeanetta Holder, famed as the “Quilt Lady” of the Indianapolis 500, passed away on Dec. 13, leaving behind a legacy of generosity remembered by those who knew her.

“She was a gracious, giving, kind hearted Christian,” Holder’s adopted son Kelly Bailey said.

Holder began making quilts for winners of the race after IndyCar driver Larry “Boom Boom” Cannon encouraged her to do so, giving her first quilt to Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford in 1976.

Winners of the race were not the only ones to receive quilts from Holder. Bailey said she also gave quilts to television hosts Jay Leno and Johnny Carson, actor John Ritter, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, hand delivering each quilt she made. One of Holder’s quilts also hangs in the JCPenney Home Office in Plano, Texas.

“She has 14 quilts hanging in 14 different museums throughout the United States,” Bailey said.

Holder even delivered a quilt to President Jimmy Carter, and another one to Carter’s brother Billy. Bailey said after receiving the quilt, First Lady Rosalynn Carter gave Holder 100 thimbles to sew with.

Holder’s generous nature extended beyond quiltmaking. Bailey said during the holiday season, Holder would go to grocery stores and give money to shoppers so they could get food and toys for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“She’s helped friends of friends who’ve had disabilities who couldn’t get Social Security – she’s gotten them their disabilities,” Bailey said. “Not for glory or anything other than, ‘I need to help them.’ ”

Kenneth Cone, owner of Cone Funeral Home in Bowling Green, said he knew Holder for several years.

“She put a lot of faith in us,” Cone said. “She was just a very giving, loving person.”

Cone said before Holder died, she was making him a quilt to hang in the hallway at his funeral home. It was going to be an American flag.

According to an article from the Indianapolis Star, Holder’s life with racing began when she was 10 years old, building a miniature race car out of tobacco sticks and can lids. By the time she turned 18, Holder was racing cars of her own.

“I was the first lady to flip a car,” Holder said in a 2016 interview with Highline Autos. “I was the second one, too.”

Holder’s first visit to the Indy 500 came in 1950, when driver Johnny Parsons won a race that was stopped early due to rain, according to the Indianapolis Star. It was here that her love of IndyCar racing began.

In a 1988 article from the Indianapolis News, Holder explained why she donated the quilts.

“The drivers do so much to make us happy,” she said in the article. “So, this is my gift to them.”