The Bitterroot Blizzard Doll Club has monthly meetings with guidance, advice, suggestions and support for those who love dolls and have the desire to collect.
Kay Schrader is the enthusiastic leader and founder of the Bitterroot Valley Doll Club called the Bitterroot Blizzard Doll Club because initially members met in the Dairy Queen. The month meetings are on the second Thursday of the month with 30 members and averages 14 attendees each meeting.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began they cancelled meetings but as the weather got warmer, they began meeting outside.
July host Jean Israel said she appreciates connecting with people.
“I’m so thrilled that finally clubs that I belong to are meeting, because we can meet in each other’s back yards,” she said. “We are so happy to see each other, believe me.”
Often the Doll Club meetings have lunch, a business meeting, a special program and then everyone participates in "show and tell" where everyone brings a doll.
The Bitterroot Blizzard Doll Club has grown in the past eight years with members from as far south as Connor, as far north as Big Arm, as far west as Superior and as far east as Great Falls. About a third of the members also belong to the United Federation of Doll Clubs, a 501(c)(3), with nearly 12,000 members worldwide.
“They publish a really nice quarterly journal,” Schrader said.
The Bitterroot Blizzard Doll Club hosts a doll show each yearthe second Saturday in June. It was canceled this year due to coronavirus concerns but has been rescheduled for the Hilton Garden Inn in Missoula for 2021. The show is held in the ball room and last year had 106 sales tables, four tables of raffle items, two tables of door prizes, two tables of free dolls and four free 15-minute mini-programs.
“It’s a really, really fun show,” Schrader said.
Around Montana, in addition to the Bitterroot club, Billings has two clubs, Great Falls has three clubs and there is a virtual club with members from Montana, Colorado and Wyoming called UFDC Region 6.
“We call ourselves ‘meet me in the middle’ because Wyoming is in the middle and that’s where we meet annually,” Schrader said. “There are a lot more people out there who collect dolls that aren’t members of clubs.”
Doll collectors have their own story and reason for starting to collect.
Schrader said she has loved dolls all her life and still has the one she received at age 4.
“My collection is mostly life-size baby dolls because I just love christening gowns and vintage baby clothes,” she said. “I collect big babies so I can show off the gowns. I also collect companion dolls called Play Pals. They are life-size at 35 inches tall and wear size 2 or 3 in toddler clothes.”
Schrader is a seamstress and makes doll clothes for her collection that includes American Girl Dolls and Shirley Temple Dolls.
“I’ve loved Shirley Temple since my mother introduced me to her movies when I was age 4 or 5,” Schrader said.
She took one of her dolls to college with her and considers him a member of her family.
The meeting at Israel’s home had a dozen doll collectors who brought dolls of many sizes, manufactured across many years with a variety of clothing styles and accessories.
Sandy Bickish said she joined because she loves the history of the dolls.
“I like to think about what was happening in the world when that doll was made,” she said. “Why was it made, how did that person get that doll? I prefer dolls 1860, 1870 and 1890. That’s my favorite era for antique French and bisque dolls. I wish dolls could talk; I really want to know because there’s some weird things on those dolls.”
History, costumes, selling prices and childhood memories just of few of the reasons members gave for doll collecting. The stories of each doll owner are the main reason members join the doll club.
“I love the stories that are connected to the dolls,” said Cathy Palmer, member. “I think there is a heart piece of longing for us to have that connection to our ancestors, to the stories of where we come from and we connect through other cultures through dolls, too.”
“I came into dolls from my aunt, she left me several dolls,” said Jean Roberts, member.
Member Donna Neidhardt said she got the doll-collecting ambition when a friend sent her an American Girl catalog.
“I opened it up and there was a 1950s doll with a poodle skirt and saddle shoes and I thought, ‘I have to have that doll,’” Niedhardt said. “I probably have about 45 American Girl dolls, which is a problem because my daughter and granddaughter don’t want them.”
Member Joan Smith said she realizes life is to be cherished and possessions are fleeting.
“But for the here and now it is so much fun to see the variety of dolls and the variety of people that are into collecting and admiring them,” she said.
Carol Williams said she has been collecting dolls since she was a little girl.
“I grew up in Butte and my dad owned a grocery store and there were a lot of strikes at the mines of Butte and people couldn’t pay their bills,” she said. “Little kids would come in looking sad and the next thing I know my Bonnie Braids was disappeared, she was given to someone else. I started collecting when I was of age trying to re-create the things that my dad gave away.”
She started collecting at about 17 years old. She said when her husband was in Congress they lived in Virginia where there was a “fabulous doll club.”
“I’ve collected more stuff than I can do anything with,” she said. “I have a whole room and am little by little moving things" through the rest of the house.
Jean Israel presented a special program on Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls and showed the small bride and groom dolls that were on display in the Darby Community Public Library in June.
Israel said the Doll Club welcomes and visitors and new members
“We would love to see girls join,” she said. “They have got to be looking for an activity right now.”
To connect with the Bitterroot Blizzard Doll Club, contact Kay Schrader at 406-360-7214.
“We have no rules, no officers and no dues,” Schrader said. “If you like dolls, toys, teddy bears, whatever, then come join us.”
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