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Discover Mid-America— October 2009

A Bull Market for Bears

Can you think of an idea that might touch the lives and hearts of thousands of people all over the world, and provide comfort to each one? James T. Ownby did.

After reading a book, Bear With Me by Peter Bull, about a man who gave bears to children in hospitals to help soothe and reassure them, Ownby took the words in the book to heart and started Good Bears of the World (GBW).

Bill Boyd, longtime GBW member and dedicated fundraiser with his bears. (photo courtesy of Pat Kapral)

GBW is an organization with a mission to provide teddy bears to comfort others in times of trauma, and with a membership filled with avid teddy bear collectors.

Because of Ownby others were inspired to help reach out to those in need. Since its beginnings in Switzerland in 1969, GBW has expanded worldwide. So far the organization has donated over a million bears to both children and adults, and shows no signs of slowing down. Ownby died in 1986, but his legacy lives on.

DENizens Doing Good

Many members of GBW found out about the organization through collecting. Then, they joined chapters, called dens, and fundraised to buy bears and gift them to places where the bears will do the most good. For example, a Missouri den chose Adoption Day, which happens once each fall in St. Louis, MO, to give bears to all the children who are going to be adopted, to help reassure them during this often apprehensive time.

A den in Kansas decided to gift bears to the National Guard in Wichita, KS for the children of soldiers being deployed. A support group made vests, each with a pocket, for these bears, and the soldier wrote a special note to put in the pocket for his/her child to read after the parent was away. Since some soldiers have been deployed multiple times, the second time the soldier left, the child received a knitted scarf for the bear; the third time they received a knitted hat for the bear; the fourth time they were given miniature dog tags; and the fifth an embroidered flag was added to the vest.

For the past couple of years, GBW has partnered with the Kansas City Chiefs to help distribute bears to children. In 2007, the Kansas City Chief’s center, Rudy Niswanger and his wife Patricia, handed out GBW teddy bears and a hug at Operation Breakthrough, a program that helps people in poverty. In 2008, the Niswangers appeared at the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired, to distribute GBW bears to kids with vision problems.

GWB member Judy Hager being hugged by her bears (photo courtesy of Judy Hager)

GBW has also sent bears to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Bears were rushed to Illinois and Virginia after the shooting incidents at two universities. GBW bears found their way to hospitals for Pentagon victims after 9-11. GBW gave bears to the Red Cross to hand out after tornados swept through towns in Kansas and Missouri.

Many dens regularly keep policemen, firemen and ambulance drivers in their areas supplied with teddy bears so that they can comfort a child in a an emergency situation by giving them a reassuring bear to hug. GBW has gifted bears to hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, veteran’s homes and domestic abuse shelters, and has found numerous additional ways to direct their fuzzy ambassadors of love and compassion to those in the world who need some comfort during tough times.

“We focus primarily on traumatized children and forgotten adults,” says Cathy Draper, teddy bear collector and GBW treasurer. “We often hear back from ambulance drivers and firemen about how they’ve been in bad situations, where the kids are screaming and they can’t touch them. They put a teddy bear in the child’s arms and the child calms down and then they are able to help them. We hear stories like this all the time.”

Teddy Bear Jubilee

What better way to raise money for teddy bears than to host a teddy bear show?

Each fall, GBW hosts The Bill Boyd Memorial Teddy Bear Jubilee in Kansas City, MO. This year it is scheduled for Oct. 1-3 at the KCI Expo Center.

“It’s one of our main fundraisers,” says Cathy. “We sell tables to teddy bear artists and dealers, and they sell their teddy bears to the public.”

“Since the show consists mainly of bear artists, you not only can choose a unique bear to buy, you get to meet the person who made and designed it,” explains Cathy.

The artists design and make all kinds of bears and are limited only by their imagination. Bears may be realistic or whimsical, may be tiny or huge and often have clothing and accessories.

“The majority are made of mohair,” says Cathy, “but some use recycled fur from old coats, imitation fur, alpaca or quilts. Some are made by needle felting. We also have bears by the major teddy bear manufacturers for sale, but the majority of bears at the show are hand-made.

“The show got its start in 1990 by Bill Boyd, a schoolteacher in Warrensburg, Missouri,” says Cathy. “He was an active GBW member and supporter who wanted to help raise money to fund GBW’s good deeds. Since the first show, which raised $6,700, the event has been held annually. Bill died in 2008, and this year we decided to rename the show in his honor.”

Miscellaneous bears from the Debbie/Stan Tinsley collection.

While many come to the show to shop for a unique bear to add to their collection, there are a variety of additional activities planned during the three-day show. “One of the most popular parts of the Jubilee is the Friday night auction,” says Cathy. “We auction off one-of-a-kind bears donated by the artists. It’s a favorite event for collectors.”

Another special event this year is a presentation by Jack Wilson, who was the chairman of the House of Nisbet from 1976 through 1989 and created their teddy bear line. Jack will speak about his career in the teddy bear world. Highlights include his friendship with Jim Ownby, founder of GBW, friendship with actor and author Peter Bull, and meeting Doris Day and Princess Diana.

Other activities at the Jubilee include a show and artist competition, a banquet and a membership meeting. Virginia Jazmer, creator of Jazzbears, was chosen to create this year’s souvenir flower bear.

(Visit for more information about the show or call, 877-429-2327.)

A Cuddly Addiction

Debbie Tinsley, an avid teddy bear collector in Illinois, couldn’t believe her eyes the first time she attended a teddy bear show.

“You’ve never lived until you’ve walked into a major hotel ballroom or convention center and found it full of critters,” remembers Debbie. “I was like a kid dropped in Toyland. It was just one table after another filled with all kinds of bears. My friends kept saying, ‘Honey, you’ve got to breathe. Breathe now.’ It was beyond awesome! It’s like ‘Elvis is in the building,’ it’s so overwhelming! When the show is over, it’s like ‘Elvis has left the building.’

“I saw some of the bears priced at $400 and more, and thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ But then I saw how they’re put together, all the hand stitching and how much time and love is put in them.”

Now Debbie thinks such a price is a bargain and is one of the most enthusiastic teddy bear collectors around. “I’ve collected from birth,” she says. “My mom started the collection and I’ve kept it going. I got married and my husband encourages my habit.”

After years of collecting, Debbie has dozens of bears in every room of her two-story house, including the garage and front porch. Her collection includes tiny bears the size of a little fingernail, all the way to a huge teddy bear on all fours, as long as a regular bed. One 6-foot-tall bear sits in a chair, and has magnets in its paws so that it can play peek-a-boo.

“We even have two concrete bears in the yard, which we dress for different holidays,” she notes. Their car’s license plate reads SDBears, for husband Stan and Debbie and their bear-collecting hobby, and yes, they keep bears in the car, too.

A kindergarten teacher for 35 years, Debbie has taken her bears into the classroom. “Just inside the door is Bonnie Bear. She’s about three-and-a-half feet tall, and is huge and round. The kids like to sit on her lap. She wears a backpack, just like the kids who come to school.”

Debbie thinks it’s reassuring to these kids, attending school for the first time, to be met by a cuddly fuzzy bear.

“Once you start collecting, it’s hard to stop,” she says. “When I collect, I’m looking for personality, something unique and different. They have to ‘speak’ to me in some way for me to buy them. I mostly collect artist bears and ones with a story behind them.”

Debbie also has an excellent collection of commercial teddy bears, too, including Steiff, Gund, Hermann and Clemens (in Minnesota).

With so many bears, Debbie is known as the Bear Lady in Zeigler, a small town in southern Illinois. People often knock on her front door and drop off bears, knowing they’ll go to a good cause.

Debbie found out about GBW by attending a teddy bear show and is now a Bearo, a life member of the organization. “You won’t find a happier or healthier or a more cuddly group of people. The camaraderie, the friendship – it all goes with it,” she says.

Judy Hager, the “Chairbear” of the Oz-Some Bear Den in Kansas, has collected for years.

“My son, when he was a senior in high school, was working in a store and saw an unusual teddy bear. He decided to give it to me as a Christmas present. That was my first bear. Since then, he has added to my collection, including sending me a huge bear from Korea.”

After collecting for a while, she attended a teddy bear show and saw the artist bears, which amazed her. “They were so unique. There weren’t thousands of the same bear, only one. That appealed to me. At first, I started collecting brand names, but now collect anything that catches my eye.”

At one bear show, Judy took a bear-making class. She is now a proud member of the Oz-some Teddy Bear Artist Guild in Wichita. She helped get her guild to join GBW as a group. Her den holds monthly meetings where they make bears, show new bears they’ve acquired, talk about upcoming bear shows, hold seminars and share expertise, along with giving bears.

“Everybody in GBW is upbeat and positive. It’s just fun to be part of this group,” says Judy.

Popular Collectible Brands

Dorothy Eliot, co-owner of Whitehall Fine Gifts and Collectibles in Topeka, KS, sells a number of collectible teddy bears in her shop. Her advice is the same whether you’re buying a teddy bear to cuddle or a collectible one you hope will appreciate in value:

“Buy the ones you dearly love,” she says. If collecting to resell later, “You may have to hang on to it for a number a years, before it will grow in value.” She advises to keep the box and keep the tag on the bear, if planning to resell it later.

Some of the bear brands at Whitehall Fine Gifts are Steiff, Boyd’s, Gund and Bearrington. “Steiff is the most expensive brand we sell, and also the most collectible. They can sell for up to $2,000 or more,” says Dorothy.

Sold as a limited edition, a certificate that comes with the bear. Steiff is one of the oldest brands of bear. A Steiff bear was aboard when the Titanic went down.

“Boyd’s is a good brand to start a collection,” continues Dorothy. “They have bears priced as low as $15, up to $300 or so. They’re really cute in plush and they make some of them really large, too. You can buy them plain, with no clothes or with outfits. The Americana bears, with patriotic outfits, are very popular right now. Girl bears seem to sell the most. People like the dresses and aprons.”

When artist bears first started coming out, they weren’t considered collectible, but now, with the trend of many collectors toward buying these one-of-a-kind bears, artist bears are starting to appreciate in value, too.

A Sigikid six-foot bear with Serta sheep, from the Debbie/Stan Tinsley collection.

There are dozens of other collectible brands to buy, as well.

For those that enjoy bears so much they want to read about them, too, there is a new mystery series, by John J. Lamb, prominently featuring teddy bears in the plot. The first in this 5-book series is The Mournful Teddy, published in 2006.

Teddy Bear Shows

In addition to the Teddy Bear Jubilee, there are a number of other teddy bear shows regionally where collectors can find treasures. Dora Pitts coordinates several Doll-Toy-Bear Shows each year, one in spring and two in fall, all located in Iowa.

“I’m a doll collector turned dealer turned promoter,” she jokes. “I participated in doll shows long ago, but noticed that there wasn’t anything for the men. Very few men are interested in dolls. So I started my own show, and added teddy bears and toys, to have something for the men to enjoy, too.”

A number of artist bears are available at each of her shows, and which includes dealers from six states.

Another popular annual bear show is the Bright Star Promotion Teddy Bear Show, in Schaumburg, IL, scheduled this year for Oct. 11 at the Marriott Schaumburg. Teddy bear artists will display their latest creations for sale, and an expert will be on hand who will appraise older bears that people bring in. Bright Star also holds teddy bear shows in Erlanger, KY and Ann Arbor, MI each year.

The Heartland Doll Show, held at the La Quinta Inn, in Joplin, MO on the fourth Saturday every September, is a good place to find teddy bears as well as dolls. The Heartland Doll Club hosts the show as a fundraiser for their ongoing project of making cloth dolls for the St. Francis Children’s Hospital in Tulsa, OK. Each child going into the hospital picks out their own handmade doll to keep, then the doctor uses it as a teaching tool to explain to the child what will be happening to them in the hospital.

Whether buying bears to give to hundreds of others, for your own children or just treating yourself, teddy bears make a fun item to collect. What better type of collection that one where you can share some love and comfort with your friends, and feel a little bit like a kid again, too?

Sylvia Forbes is a freelance writer based in Fayette, MO. She can be contacted at


Good Bears of the World
Box 13097
Toledo, OH 43613

Bill Boyd Memorial Teddy Bear Jubilee
Oct. 1-3, 2009
KCI Expo Center, Kansas City, MO

Bright Star Teddy Bear Show
Oct. 11
Marriott Schaumberg, Schaumberg, IL

Chicago Teddy Bear Show – Back Road Events
Oct. 24
Embassy Suites, Schaumburg, IL

Dora Pitts – Doll-Toy-Bear Shows
Maquoketa, IA – March and September shows
Davenport, IA – November show (Nov. 8)

Sharon Daniels - Heartland Doll Show
(includes bears)
4th Saturday every September
Joplin, MO

Whitehall Fine Gifts & Collectibles
3410 SW 10th Ave.
Topeka, KS

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