DOROTHY PEARSON of McMechen has sewn her final teddy bear outfit, but, like a certain well-known bunny, she keeps on going with other activities.
Pearson, who celebrated her 90th birthday on July 22, made clothing for holiday teddy bears for about 10 years. As a project organized by the home life department of the Woman’s Club of Wheeling, she sewed outfits for approximately 500 stuffed bears that the Salvation Army in Wheeling gave to children in need at Christmas.
“I did 72 (outfits) last year. They’d bring the bears to me and pick them up. It’s a nice hobby,” she said, describing the holiday routine.
Earlier this year, however, Pearson decided to stop participating in the project because of failing eyesight, figuring that other club members would pick up the sewing needle. She gave all of her patterns, pieces of fabric and supplies to a niece who is undertaking a similar project in another West Virginia city.
Pearson was saddened to learn recently that the Salvation Army in Wheeling has discontinued its teddy bear project because of other pressing needs to address in the community. “About a month or so ago, they announced they wouldn’t be having bears. Too many people need shelter and food,” she remarked. “It’s sad. But there’s a lot of people who are homeless and out of jobs.
“It’s a shame that the Salvation Army can’t do it. I realize people need food and shelter more than bears,” she commented.
Norma Schoene, president of the Woman’s Club of Wheeling, said the club received notification from the Salvation Army “that they cannot afford to buy the bears.”
Before learning of the project’s discontinuation, Schoene said, “She (Pearson) donated over 30 little outfits at the end of last year.” The club president hopes that other organizations can afford to buy bears to be dressed for holiday giving to children.
Over the years, Pearson did “a great job,” Schoene said. While other club members also made outfits for teddy bears, “she (Pearson) was the only one who did that many. The others did one or two,” the president said.
Pearson said she “really enjoyed” participating in the holiday project. After making the costumes, she placed the stuffed bears on twin beds in her home and dressed them in the little outfits. “I was just a child at heart. I hated to give them up,” she quipped.
The McMechen resident had an edge over other bear costumers because she had sewn professionally and had the tools of the trade. “A long time ago, I worked at a garment factory in McMechen, then I worked in Bellaire at Bobbie Brooks (garment factory). I also bought a (sewing) machine from Bobbie Brooks when I retired. I had a factory machine; it was easy to sew on,” she said.
In deciding which ursine outfits to create, Pearson kept in mind the interests of children who might receive the Christmas toys. “I did a lot of Steelers costumes for little boys. I did a lot of clowns,” she said, adding, “My husband and I were both members of Clowns of America.”
Her husband, Paul, who died in 2002, “was a Shrine clown and had a go-cart. I tried to do as much as I could,” she said.
During the course of the teddy bear project, Pearson made an increasing number of outfits, adding another dozen to her annual total a number of years. “When I started out, I made 12 each year. Then I made 24, then 36, then 48. For two years, I did 60. For three years, I did 72. That’s a lot of bears,” she said.
The holiday endeavor involved several months’ worth of work. Pearson said she started the next year’s effort “usually around January or February. It’s a time of year when you don’t get out too much. It’s a good time to sew,” she explained. “I had them all done by September usually.”
In the past, Salvation Army and Woman’s Club officials assembled a display of the dressed bears around a Christmas tree in the lobby of WesBanco’s main bank in downtown Wheeling.
After Christmas 2008, “I decided I wasn’t going to make any more. I decided I did all I could,” she said. “I hated to stop doing it. I’m getting cataracts. I’m not seeing as well as I used to. But I miss it.”
Pearson has given up sewing, “but I am still teaching balloon making,” she said. “There’s a group of clowns - led by Dottie Henry, Sunflower the Clown -who go to a lot of rest homes. I’ve been teaching them how to make the balloons.”
After working at the garment factory for about 12 years, Pearson spent another 12 years working for a dermatologist in Wheeling. “Then I turned into a clown, which was much more fun,” she joked. “It (clowning) didn’t pay very well. Most of it was free. Both of us (she and her husband), we hit every rest home around here or another. One time, we even went to Charleston for the Heart Association. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun.”
She even had an experience that no other female clown has been able to achieve. “In 2004, I got to do the Shrine Circus in Wheeling. That’s a no-no. I had to get the potentate’s permission to do it, because being a Shrine clown is strictly a men’s thing,” she explained.
DOROTHY?PEARSON, 90, of McMechen stands beside a display of some of the many teddy bears that she dressed for the Salvation Army in Wheeling to distribute to children in need at Christmas. In 2008, her final year for the project, Pearson made outfits for 72 stuffed bears. She has sewn the outfits for about 10 years as part of an initiative by the home life department of the Woman’s Club of Wheeling.