Stephanie O’Neill, Diane Rickenbacher, and Keynu. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
Stephanie O’Neill, Diane Rickenbacher, and Keynu. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

The theme of this year's Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, and the 2014 poster created by Sisters artist and business-owner Dan Rickards, "It Takes A Village," held true for animal portrait quilter Diane Rickenbacher of Pollock Pines, California.

Rickenbacker and her husband, Rick, have a summer home in Sisters that they rent out, and every year they return for the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. Rickenbacher is a friendly sort, and she just loves animals - especially dogs - and at last year's quilt show she started a conversation with Stephanie and Dan O'Neill of Sisters, when she saw their two beautiful Siberian huskies.

"I'm a yacker, and that's how I met Dan and Stephanie. I enjoy talking to anyone," she recalled. "I saw them sitting outside of Sisters Coffee house after the quilt show when I went to pick up my quilts. I had to let them know that I thought their dogs were beautiful. We talked and I took a few photos of the huskies along with Dan, too.

"After Rick and I returned home to California I kept looking at the photos that I took of those handsome huskies. The photos turned out pretty good, so I decided to turn the photos into fabric with two different quilts, the first being of just a close-up of one of the dogs and the other of Dan and the second dog. I just hoped that the next year I would somehow find them. I like surprising people! I virtually knew nothing about the O'Neills, including their names, except that they lived in Sisters."

Rickenbacher brought the two special pet portrait quilts to this year's 39th annual quilt show, and the day before the show she went on a quest to find the O'Neills, not only to show the local couple what she had accomplished, but to give them the quilts as a keepsake. Her first stop was at Sisters Coffee.

"I showed people the photo I had taken of Dan O'Neill with his dog in his lap, nobody knew his name, but some folks recognized the dog and the person in the photo," said Rickenbacher. "Sisters Coffee is a pretty popular place, so I decided to hang the pet portrait quilt of one of their huskies over the piano with a note attached to it, which said, 'Know Me?' I also put my name and phone number."

The Rickenbachers then went next door to Ponderosa Properties.

"We went to Ponderosa because that's where we had purchased our summer home in Sisters years ago. They knew us, so it was worth a try. The receptionist, Sharon, didn't have a clue who the person or the dog was in the photo. She started showing the photo around inside the office, and when agent Ali Mayea saw it she spoke up right away," Rickenbacher recalled.

"I know this person and his dog, he and his wife are my clients," Mayea said excitedly. "I sold them a home in Sisters."

Rickenbacher showed Mayea the photo of the quilt she made of Dan with his husky, and the excitement grew. Between Mayea and the Rickenbachers they came up with a fast plan.

"Ali thought it would be a wonderful idea if we turned this into a complete surprise for the O'Neills, since they knew nothing of the quilt. So we were going to try to get them into Sisters Coffee without telling them anything, then surprise them with the quilts," said Rickenbacher.

Without hesitating, Mayea picked up the phone and called the O'Neills, crossing her fingers that they were in town.

"Dan was at home. I told him that I wanted him and Stephanie to come to Sisters Coffee right away and not to ask me why," Mayea said. "He was puzzled for a moment and told me that Stephanie was at work in Bend, but he would come by alone.

Mayea and O'Neill met in Sisters Coffee without Rickenbacher, when suddenly Dan spied the quilt of a dog that was a remarkable resemblance of his dog Kaiya.

"The resemblance was uncanny, so I walked over to the quilt and said, "That's my dog," O'Neill recalled. "So now I was in on the surprise and would continue with this secret until we could get Stephanie to see the quilt, which couldn't be until the next morning before the quilt show. I was allowed to take the quilt home overnight so I could set up the surprise for my wife the next morning back in Sisters Coffee where we both would meet quilter Diane Rickenbacher."

And the plot thickened, with even more surprises since Dan only knew of the one quilt of Keynu that hung over the piano at Sisters Coffee.

The Mayeas, Rickenbachers and Dan O'Neill all planned to meet at 8:30 a.m., right before the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show at the coffee house to surprise Stephanie.

Mayea and her husband, Rick, and Rickenbacher and her husband, Don, grabbed a table at the far end of Sisters Coffee and waited for O'Neill's entrance.

O'Neill set the stage by placing the quilt of Keynu back over the piano, while his wife leashed up Keynu and Kaiya outside in the shade.

O'Neill called his wife over to the piano to show her the quilt as she walked in the door. The flash of phone cameras captured her surprise.

"I had no clue at all; Dan had told me we were meeting Ali at the coffee house because she had a surprise for me. I never knew he actually brought the quilt home and had it overnight," Stephanie O'Neill said with happy tears in her eyes.

The teary reunion began when all three couples brought together by one quilt sat down together, including Keynu and Kaiya hanging in the open window beside them at Sisters Coffee.

The last surprise was when Rickenbacher showed the photo of the second quilt of Dan and Kaiya which she had entered in this year's quilt show.

"I can't believe Diane is giving us these two beautiful quilts," said Stephanie as they started outside on Cascade Avenue in search of the second quilt.

"I believe in paying it forward with random acts of kindness," responded Rickenbacher.

"I'm going to call the quilt 'Fabric of a Small Town,'" said Dan O'Neill. "Diane made an anonymous gift, and the connection between all the people involved was a magical coincidence. The quilt is the binding faith that brought people together and formed new friendships in this small community."