Audrey Shustek, 82, enjoys knitting baby sweaters in her home at Aston Gardens. She’s made more than 500 since 1957, when she got married and her husband insisted she stay home.
At the time, friends and family members started having children, so she’d knit them sweaters, caps and blankets as gifts for their newborns, and a lifelong hobby began.
Today — after more than six decades — Shustek has a new reason for giving her work away.
Suzanne Ciani, the 52-year-old daughter of friends Mary and John Hess, of Lakeland, was diagnosed in 2011 with stage four gioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. Now under hospice care, she is blind, can’t hold a conversation and has little to no short-term memory.
About a year ago, Ciani told her family she wanted to help cancer patients, survivors and their families. Shortly thereafter, her son, Christopher, formed the Suzanne Ciani Brain Cancer Foundation, which is in the process of becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its mission is to build awareness about the disease and raise funds for research.
Toward that end, Shustek has agreed to give her current collection of 20 baby sweaters — sizes newborn to 3 — to anyone donating a minimum of $2,000 to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Once the donation is paid, the collection can be picked up or shipped, she said.
Shustek’s work has its admirers.
“I think the sweaters are so tastefully done,” said Denise Linden, of St. Petersburg, who recently viewed the collection while visiting her mother, Line Rader, at Aston Gardens. “Her artistry and creativity comes through in every one of them. Many are originals.”
Born in the Bronx in 1930, Shustek learned to knit when she was 7.
“There weren’t a whole lot of toys back then,” she said. “So I’d often go sit by my mother and watch her knit clothes for our family.”
After her marriage, Shustek followed the tradition by designing and making clothes for her daughter, Roseanne Mennie, of Valrico, and three grandchildren, Jaclyn, Jamie and Jillian. Throughout 2006, she also knitted lap blankets for female patients at a Lakeland nursing home where her husband lived after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and prostrate cancer. He died in January 2007.
Shustek moved to Aston Gardens last August.
“Knitting is therapy for my arthritic fingers and a means of relaxation,” she said. “I have fibromyalgia, and when I’m in a lot of pain I stop whatever I’m doing and pick up my knitting needles. It helps relieve my stress level.”
To make arrangements for the donation to Moffitt and subsequent gift of the sweaters, call Shustek at (813) 922-4361.