Goessel’s ‘doll lady’ gives new life to old dolls

Some people call her the “doll lady.”

That’s the reputation 94-year-old Marie Jantz of Goessel has earned by taking both loved and abandoned dolls of all ages and sizes into her home.

She scrubs the faces and shampoos the hair of some, and then fits each one with a custom-made outfit.

“I used to fix them, too, but I’ve run out of parts, and they’re hard to get now,” Jantz said. “So, I mostly dress them. Of course, if I get parts, I’ll fix them, too.”

While some dolls are returned to their owners, she said others have been adopted into new homes through the Salvation Army and Hillsboro’s Et Cetera Shop.

“Of course, they gave me the dolls that I dressed for the Et Cetera Shop, ” she said. “Someone brought those dolls to sell, but they needed clothes. And then they called me, and I dressed them and gave them back to sell.”

Before moving to Goessel from Hillsboro in August 1996, Jantz said she sold about 80 of her dolls.

But many of them-in fact, 106-have ended up staying long-term in her one-bedroom apartment across the street from Bethesda Home in Goessel.

Although she has slowed down quite a bit, Jantz said she continues to design and sew clothes for dolls.

Jantz started her talent of dressing dolls in early 1982, after retiring from working nearly 30 years in institutional and private healthcare in Hillsboro.

“I had been always on schedule for 29 years, and I couldn’t stay by myself very well,” she said. “So it dawned on me, ‘Get some people around you.’ So, that’s when I started working with dolls.”

Jantz then lived alone, having lost her only child, a son in his 20s, to diabetes.

She said she originally purchased and dressed the first doll for an acquaintance who was pregnant.

“I was going to give that doll to that baby,” she said. “Then when the baby was born, it died.”

Jantz said she decided to keep the doll, and one by one, she took on other dolls as projects.

“People gave me leftover scraps from quilts and dresses they made,” Jantz said. “I could always use them.”

The late Susie Esau, a seamstress well-known for sewing wedding dresses for area brides, frequently donated remnants of fabric and snips of lace to Jantz.

“I got lots of lace that way, if the bride didn’t want what was left,” she said.

For many of her dolls, Jantz has crocheted dresses, sweaters, caps and even shoes.

“People heard about (the outfits) and brought me dolls to dress,” she said. “I didn’t even have to advertise. I didn’t want to make a business out of it, but it mushroomed for me. The more I made, the more I got.”

Jantz’s love for dolls is apparent to visitors who enter her home. She has dolls displayed on glass-door shelves, atop her dresser and on her bed.

“Every doll has a name,” she said.

Jantz has been resourceful in choosing their names. She christened one “Freda Louise,” named in honor of friends Fred and Louise, who mailed her a doll to dress from Nevada.

To remember the multitude of names, Jantz uses slips of paper, pinned to the dolls’ petticoats.

“I have so many already and my memory is not like it used to be,” she said.

Each doll has its individual characteristics.

“I have my favorites,” Jantz said, pointing to 15-inch Evangeline, with long, black hair and the skin tones of a Native American. Jantz, who decided to dress the doll as an angel, had just finished attaching the last of 688 beads on its gown Friday morning.

“I’m keeping her,” she said. “I gave three angels to the (Mennonite Central Committee) sale, but this one I want to keep, unless I feel fit to make me another one. It’s the only (angel) whose dress is made out of material instead of being crocheted.”

Besides assigning names to the dolls, Jantz also associates stories with many of them.

She said she paid 29 cents to rescue one-Genevieve Kaye-from a Goodwill store in Wichita. Originally priced at 75 cents, the 3-foot doll’s face was badly marred.

“I scrubbed and scrubbed to clear her face,” she said. “It was all scribbled.”

Now one of her pride and joys, the doll stands in a place of honor in the bedroom, dressed in a bright pink cape and color-coordinated dress.

“I found that she was a special doll,” she said of Genevieve Kaye.

Much to her delight, Jantz had discovered a Disney trademark stamped near the nape of the doll’s neck.

“That was the biggest treasure,” Jantz said. “I felt like I found something good for 29 cents.”

Another doll, Darla Elaine, dressed in a yellow satin dress, came to Jantz with a missing limb.

“She didn’t have a leg,” said Jantz, who repaired that doll and another by using the parts of a third doll.

“I made two good dolls out of three,” she said.

Jantz said in the past she often got needed parts for dolls from Elsie Plenert, herself a doll collector, who now lives in Parkside Homes.

“She also helped me fix dolls when I couldn’t get the arms or legs in,” Jantz said.

Over the years, Jantz has dressed hundreds of dolls.

“I wish I had kept count,” she said. “I crocheted so many dresses for dolls. I was sorry I had not put down the yards of thread I used.”

Jantz said she often makes more than one outfit for her favorite dolls. In a closet, dresses of all sizes and colors hang from the rod.

“My good dolls have formals,” she said as she pointed out LaDonna’s sage green party dress, decorated with pink flowers and white lace.

Jantz said she does not know what the future holds for her family of dolls.

“I’d like to give the special ones to some museum,” she said.

Jantz recently completed one project, a pair of dolls, for Noreen Weems, director of the Marion County Department for the Elderly.

For one doll, a small slumbering baby, Jantz sewed a striped sleeper.

“That was her grandchild’s doll,” she said.

Jantz outfitted the other doll, which Weems said is some 20 years old, in a red and white print dress, with a white petticoat and panties.

“She didn’t tell me what she wanted, so I made it like as if it were my doll,” Jantz said.

Jantz said she had to use baby shampoo to restore the doll’s matted hair.

“The longer I worked with her hair, the more hair she got,” she said. “They were only in strings in every direction.”

Jantz also repaired the doll’s straw bonnet, using fabric glue to bond biased tape across the raveled edges.

“I hope she’s satisfied,” Jantz said.

In all probability, Weems will be.

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