'Bear Lady of Bellingham' showers the world with hand-sewn teddy bears

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 18, 2014 

Jeri Ferguson PAD

Jeri Ferguson surrounded by the bears she makes at her Bellingham home, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Ferguson gives the bears to those in need. "This fills my heart," says Ferguson.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Jeri Ferguson's classic, colorful teddy bears have gone to thousands of wounded soldiers, orphans and abandoned children, but others might remember getting a bear, too.

Chances are, many local people know someone who received one of the hundreds of hand-sewn bears handed out by the "The Bear Lady of Bellingham."

Ferguson, 84, used her lifelong love of sewing and crafts to begin creating bears for charities after she moved to Bellingham to stay in 1992 following an earlier stay.

A widow, she reared four children (one deceased) and has five grand-children and 14 great-grand-children.

Question: What a sight, an entire couch of (about 40) teddy bears! How long does it take you to make that many?

Answer: Oh, as little as a week, since I'm always making bears every day but Sunday. It takes me about an hour, an hour and a half, to sew a bear using a material known as Sherpa and all the clothing materials I have. I make about 300 to 400 bears each year.

Q: Do you really give bears to local people on a regular basis?

A: I always keep three girl bears and three boy bears in the back seat of my car. Whenever I see someone who looks like they need a bear, adult or child, I offer that person a bear.

Q: Why do you do it?

A: I've always been a giver. It's just in my heart. I feel I have to do it.

God gave me skills and I'm giving back. Making bears gives me peace, gives me calm. It's just a passion with me.

Q: Have you ever been turned down?

A: Only once, in all these years, has someone turned down one of my bears. I have given away hundreds. When I want to give one to a child, I always make sure to ask a parent first.

Q: Do you remember people's reactions?

A: I remember once seeing a young mother with a child in a parking lot, and the mother was crying. When I came outside from a store, she was still crying.

I knocked on her car window and asked if she would like a bear. She brightened, her tears stopped, and she was so grateful someone had cared enough to ask her.

Q: Which children's organization benefits from your bears?

A: There's a wonderful Bellingham-based organization, Kidstown International, that regularly distributes my bears to orphans and abandoned children in Romania, Nepal and India. It's directed by Matthew Smith.

Q: How do wounded soldiers benefit?

A: The veterans' hospitals in Spokane and Portland take as many of my bears as they think they need. I really love to support our military.

I love to make patriotic bears. Men tend to take the boy bears and women usually take the girl bears.

Q: How did you learn to create such beautiful bears?

A: I've been sewing since I was 10 years old and I was always craft-oriented. I was a child during the Great Depression and I learned from my grandmother, my mother and others. I remember sewing a panda bear, and later I learned to sew doxie dogs, plus small ducks and horses.

Q: When did you sew your first teddy bears?

A: It was in 1989, when we moved to Anacortes after living for years in Japan. I found out the DARE program needed teddy bears for sixth-graders. I just plunged right in. I knew I could do it.

Q: Did you sew your children's clothes?

A: Yes. When my children were young, I sewed their clothing. We couldn't afford expensive material, so I would go to thrift stores and create clothing for my children out of adult clothing I bought. I even taught my three sons to sew along with my daughter!

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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