Needlepoint kneelers memorialize soldier

Marine Lt. Stephen Randolph Hilton’s sister Lois Hilton Thayer and his daughter, Anne Hilton Carrion, stand next to needlepoint kneelers completed 54 years after Lt. Hilton was killed in Vietnam on Aug. 25, 1968. The chapel is at St. John’s Episcopal Church in, Winnsboro. Rt. Rev. Daniel P. Richards, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina dedicated the five kneelers on Sunday, May 29. | photos: Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – Last Sunday morning, when churches across town were remembering those who gave their all for their country, Rt. Rev. Daniel P. Richards, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, dedicated five needlepoint kneelers beneath the altar rail in the William Porcher DuBose Chapel at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Winnsboro.

The story of the kneelers began on Aug 25, 1968, when Marine Lieutenant Stephen Randolph Hilton, Jr. was killed in Vietnam.

On hearing of his son’s death in Vietnam, Robert Eldridge Hilton Sr., wanted to do something to keep his son’s memory alive.

He drove to his church, St. John’s Episcopal, in Winnsboro that night to find solace from his pastor. As they prayed and talked about Hilton’s great loss, it came to Hilton that he wanted to do something for the church’s tiny chapel in his son’s name.

The chapel already had an altar on a raised section at one end of the room and some chairs, but few other furnishings. There was no railings for the altar.

That very evening, Hilton, a skilled woodworker, began creating the alter rail. When that was finished, he built a credence table (for communion) and attached it to the wall near the altar.

The tiny table was designed by Rev. William Harrison Rose in the shape of a shell and crafted from aged pine donated by William E. and Frances Davis Haslett from an early structure belonging to Amos E. Davis.

Hilton also built eight new intricately carved pews for the chapel.

As Hilton was working on the chapel, his late son’s widow, Evelyn Elkin Hilton, was making her own contribution to the chapel in her husband’s name. The couple’s daughter, Anne, was 2-1/2  years of age at the time of Lt. Hilton’s death.

Evelyn began sewing the first of what would eventually be five needlepoint kneelers depicting the symbols of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with a design for St. John’s Church. 

In time, Evelyn remarried. The needlepoint was tedious work, and with a young daughter to keep up with, her time for the needlepoint project was limited.

Anne Hilton Carrion, the Hiltons’ daughter, recalled her memories of seeing her mother pull the needlepoint out and working on it here and there over the years. After her mother’s death in 2018 Carrion found the unfinished needlepoint project. Four of the kneelers were finished and one – depicting the design of St. John’s – was only partially finished.

The Hiltons had a long history at St. John’s, so Carrion contacted Betty Ann Ferguson, a longtime member of the church, inquiring if any members of the congregation would have the time and inclination to complete the kneelers.

St John’s Church member Susie Clinard with the St. John’s Church needlepoint kneeler that she helped finish.

Susie Clinard volunteered to finish the needlepoint.

Betty Ann Ferguson, Janet Brakefield, Kathy Johnson and Susie Clinard collaborated to bring the entire project to fruition, working with professionals to clean, block and upholster the five kneelers with the goal of completion by Bishop Richards visit on Memorial Day Weekend.

Carrion’s step-father, the man who married her mother when Carrion was young, wanted to pay for the professional finishing of his late wife’s needlepoint.

Sunday, May 29, Anne Hilton Carrion and Lt. Hilton’s sister, Lois Thayer along with other relatives and friends were present for the dedication in the chapel. 

On Sunday, for the Memorial Day service, Evelyn Hilton’s newly finished needlepoint kneelers were laid carefully beneath the prayer rail that her husband had made in their son’s memory more than 50 years earlier.

And the congregation was reminded once again of the ultimate sacrifice of Lt. Hilton and of all the soldiers who didn’t come home to their families. 

 Marine Lt. Stephen Randolph Hilton’s sister Lois Hilton Thayer, left, and his daughter, Anne Hilton Carrion,  standing next to the needlepoint kneelers completed 54 years after Lt. Hilton was killed in Vietnam on Aug. 25, 1968.  The chapel is at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Winnsboro. Rt. Rev. Daniel P. Richards, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, dedicated the five kneelers on Sunday, May 29.

St. John’s Episcopal members Kathy Johnson, left, Betty Ann Ferguson and Janet Brakefield display the needlepoint kneelers they helped to finish.

Speak Your Mind

*