For ‘Grandma,’ it’s baby blankets and baseball

  • Sat Jun 30th, 2012 6:08pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist

Martha “Grandma” Chan is a hard-core baseball fan with a soft spot in her heart for babies.

“I’m a baseball nut,” the 90-year-old said. “Every time there’s a ballgame, that’s when I do my blankets.”

She has three grown children and a grandson, but hundreds of babies have felt the warmth of her love. Many families, when they take a newborn home from the Providence Pavilion for Women and Children, leave with a gift that says, “Handmade Specially by Grandma Chan.”

For years, Chan has been making and donating crocheted blankets and tiny hats to babies born at the Pavilion, part of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

On Friday, the love she has given in countless hours of making the blankets was returned. Hospital staff honored Chan at a luncheon — complete with baseball caps on the table and Cracker Jack for dessert.

“Each night I watch baseball on TV, I usually finish one blanket. It depends on how long a game lasts, if there are extra innings,” she said Friday before touring the Pavilion’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Chan personally gave blankets to two young mothers, Dawn Swimmer and Shalyn Olsen, whose infant sons were being cared for in the unit. Swimmer’s son, Josiah, weighed just 3 pounds, 4 ounces when he was born 10 weeks early June 12. Olson’s baby boy, Reece, was born June 25, weighing just over 5 pounds.

It was Chan’s first chance to visit the hospital. The blankets have sometimes been delivered by her son, Dr. Kenyon Chan, chancellor of the University of Washington Bothell. Dave Brooks, CEO of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, has served on the UW Bothell’s advisory board.

Martha Chan lives with 57-year-old Kenyon Chan in Seattle — during baseball season, anyway. She has another son in the Seattle area, Dr. Darrow Chan, a clinical psychologist. She spends winters in Los Angeles with her daughter, Darlene Chan.

Joanne Burke is a registered nurse and manager of the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and postpartum outpatient clinic. A New York native who grew up going to Yankees games, Burke talked baseball with Chan during the festive lunch.

Kenyon Chan, who also attended the luncheon, said his mother spent most of her life in the San Francisco Bay area. He describes his mother as “a longtime San Francisco Giants fan.” She likes the Mariners, he said, “so long as they aren’t playing the Giants.”

“You get more blankets during the season than off-season,” he added.

Kenyon Chan said that when his mother’s beloved Giants beat the Texas Rangers in the 2010 World Series, she told him, “Oh thank goodness, now I can die in peace.” The team hadn’t won a World Series since 1954, before the Giants’ move from New York to San Francisco.

Her blanket-making began as a commercial enterprise. Martha Chan and her late husband operated what she calls a “pa and ma store” while raising their family in El Sobrante, Calif., near Berkeley.

“I used to sell the blankets,” she said. After retirement, she started donating them. She gave hundreds of handmade hats to an Oakland, Calif., hospital for its cancer patients. Chan moved to the Seattle area about seven years ago.

Her crochet and knitting skills started in girlhood. Born in San Francisco, the oldest of eight children, Chan said her mother died when she was small. She was sent to school in Hong Kong. It was there she perfected her handiwork with yarn. She came back to San Francisco in 1937.

She misses the days of old-school baseball, when players were friendlier with fans. Her family became friends with Orlando Cepeda, a Giants player from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. Chan went often to San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

She saw some greats play with the Giants and met a few in person, including Willie Mays and Juan Marichal. Now it’s baseball on TV, with her fingers flying.

“She really picks up the speed during baseball season,” said Lisa Votava, an executive assistant at the hospital.

Dr. Frank Andersen, division chief of the Providence Pavilion, said about 350 babies are born at the hospital every month, some 4,000 a year. There’s plenty of demand for blankets. Grandma Chan is not about to stop.

“A lot of people smoke. I don’t smoke,” she said, explaining that she likes working with her hands during ballgames.

She could munch on Cracker Jack, but that wouldn’t help anybody.

“I love children,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;