What Started as a Hobby Has Become a Way of Life for Scott Flanagan '07

What Started as a Hobby Has Become a Way of Life for Scott Flanagan '07

Monday, June 5, 2023

This story was originally published in the 2022 Midland Magazine.

Scott Flanagan was dealt some misfortune in 2017, but that hasn’t stopped the 2007 Midland University graduate from becoming a renowned quilt pattern designer and national speaker.

Flanagan, a native of Longmont, Colo., woke up on the morning of June 6, 2017 with what he thought was a bad case of laryngitis. After two weeks it got significantly worse. He eventually went to a doctor where he was prescribed prednisone. “Two weeks later, it was even worse,” Flanagan said. “I couldn’t talk on the phone at all. I could barely talk to someone sitting next to me.”

In August of that year, a specialist made the correct diagnosis of spasmodic dysphonia – a neurological voice disorder. Surgery was conducted in 2018 to correct the problem. Flanagan said it worked for two years, but then the disorder returned. “Now every three months I go and get botox injected into my vocal cords,” Flanagan said. “That makes me sound somewhat normal for about two months out of the three.”

The disorder hasn’t stopped Flanagan from being a national presenter and educator on quilting. He travels to speak to quilt guilds and quilt shops across the United States. He is upfront at his presentations, telling audiences about his disorder. “At this point, it is something that isn’t going to go away,” Flanagan said. “It is just going to be part of my life so I either learn to live with it, or find a totally different career, and I’m not OK with finding a different career.”

When he was a junior in high school, Flanagan chose Midland from a list of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America colleges and universities. He also has extended family in York, Omaha, and Des Moines, Iowa. “I thought if I got homesick I could go see some of them,” he said.

Flanagan, who received a vocal music scholarship, was originally going to pursue a degree in architecture, but opted to go after a degree in business marketing and management. He also participated in choir all four years.

“I made a lot of friends from all areas of study such as nursing, education, business, and music,” he said. “However, the choir tours provided some awesome memories for me, especially since I can no longer sing due to my voice disorder. Those tours will always hold some of my fondest memories.”

Flanagan grew up in a “crafty” household. His father was into woodworking while his mother and grandmother both enjoyed sewing. “I have sewn since I was 7, but it became more of a hobby during high school and college,” he said. “As time went on, my passion for and interest in quilting and the quilt industry grew, and it became a huge part of my identity.”

As a senior at Midland, Flanagan took a job at Country Traditions in Fremont, now known as Nebraska Quilt Company, so he could get discount fabric to make graduation quilts for friends. Once he graduated, the store offered him a full-time position. “At the time, I didn’t know what else to do so I thought I would do it for a short time until I found a job, job,” he said.

In 2014, Flanagan said he took the leap from hobby to vocation and submitted some quilt patterns to national magazines. The publications soon contacted him. “I was in my first magazine that year and since that time my business, 4th and Main Designs, has just grown,” he said.

Flanagan has had more than 50 patterns that have been published in national magazines in the past eight years. He teaches regionally and nationally and is classified as a national educator in the quilting world. “Teaching, lectures, and inspiring are the highlights of my job,” he said.

In 2020, Flanagan filmed a six-part quilting series with Fons and Porter’s Love of Quilting based on a quilt he had designed for their magazine. He was also asked by Annie’s Studio to write a book “Charming Jelly Roll Quilts” featuring 16 quilt patterns. The book, released in June of 2021, has become one of Annie’s bestsellers. He will launch his first Batik Fabric Collection “Quilters Guide to the Galaxy” in the fall of 2022.

All of those achievements aren’t bad for someone who thought his close friends and advisors at Midland were crazy for suggesting he should work in the quilting industry. “I always dismissed those suggestions. I thought that quilting was just a hobby and not a career option,” Flanagan said. “Obviously, they all saw something that I didn’t. My Midland friends and family continue to be some of my biggest supporters and encouragers to take my quilting skills as far as I can.”

That group of supporters, including his church family at Sinai Lutheran, have also been on his side as he battles spasmodic dysphonia. In 2019, he went to Capitol Hill to request funding for research for all forms of dysphonia. He spoke in front of hundreds of people and met with Nebraska Senators Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer as well as congressional representatives.

“It is hard to describe what that is like because you are speaking on behalf of yourself, but also on behalf of everyone else who has that disorder or similar disorders,” Flanagan said. “There’s a lot of weight to that, but I feel very honored and proud that the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association asked me to be the representative from Nebraska to help bring light to a disorder that is not well known on a national stage.”

Flanagan may have been dealt a bad physical break, but he isn’t letting the disorder slow him down or hinder the work he loves. “I’m not going to say I don’t have moments where I get mad and frustrated,” he said. "It is going to happen. It isn't cancer, or Parkinson's, it is just a cross that I have to bear. I'm pretty fortunate. If I have to live with it, I might as well accept it and find humor in it. If not, the only person who will suffer will be me."