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Jul 20, 2022 (0)
Local woman's passion for stuffed bears lives on after her death
By Ashley Gaughan
Staff Writer - West Point News
Editor note: Maggie Pierce is the daughter of Jim and Diane Shoemaker of O'Neill and was a 1986 graduate of St. Mary's High School.
A recent series of photographs published in the West Point News about a build-a-bear program at the library, done in honor of long-time community member Maggie Pierce, has drawn community interest and renewed excitement for her hand-crafted stuffed bears.
Pierce, whose skills, care and thoughtfulness involved in crafting special bears for many people goes back about 18 years, according to her husband Lynn. Maggie died in 2021, but her memory lives on through the bears project, he noted.
That journey started when Lynn and Maggie lived in Winside. Lynn was the elementary school principal there and Maggie was a dental lab tech.
According to Lynn, one thing Maggie loved to do was take the couple's three children Haley, Seth and Jamie, to the Winside library when they were young.
Since there was no preschool in Windside at the time, Lynn said the library provided books, puzzles and other activities to help their kids with early childhood education.
Maggie always felt drawn to being a stay-at-home mom and would ponder business ideas she could do from home, he explained.
An idea that appealed to her was learning a certain craft from her mom. Lynn explained how Maggie's mother made “Memory Bears,” stuffed bears made from material, tee shirts, blankets and more from a family's loved one who had passed away.
Though Maggie had never sewn much before, her mother taught her how to make the Memory Bears in just one day.
In time, Lynn said, Maggie started selling the bears, although business started off slow at first.
In 2005, the couple and their three children moved to West Point. About a year later, things changed for Maggie's business.
After returning from a summer vacation in Colorado, the couple had unpacked the car, got their kids settled and proceeded to check their missed phone and email messages.
Lynn said when checking emails that Maggie had received a significant number of requests from people asking about her bears.
After checking the answering machine, Maggie found her husband Lynn to tell him, similarly there were a bunch of calls asking for bears and they had come from all over the country.
That was on a Tuesday evening, Lynn said.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday more emails and calls came in asking for Maggie's bears.
One of the phone calls Maggie received on that Friday was from a woman in New York. Lynn said Maggie asked the woman how she had possibly found her small business in West Point, Nebraska.
According to the caller, celebrity Denise Richards had done a T.V. show on Memory Bears. The woman told Maggie, “When you ‘Google' Memory Bears, your website comes up as number three. You're going to be really busy,'” Lynn said.
And she was.
The rest of the summer and fall of 2006, Lynn said Maggie made more than 600 bears, and the business continued to grow.
“Her memory bears were the perfect stay-at-home business for her,” Lynn added.
Whenever Lynn had time off from school, it allowed Maggie to take time off too, so they could easily take family trips with their kids.
Maggie did the majority of her work each fall, making numerous Memory Bears for people who often ordered them as Christmas gifts.
Lynn said his wife worked diligently on orders at home, cutting out the material, stuffing and sewing the bears together. Maggie might take time to stuff the bears when she had 15 or 20 minutes sitting in front of the T.V., he added.
Each bear was unique depending on the request of the buyer, Lynn said. Some bears had collared shirts and neckties, some wore jean overalls, some had prints of a college alma mater. There were striped bears, checkered bears and floral print bears.
Each bear was sewn together snugly, plush with stuffing, and when completed, were ideal for snuggling. All held a special significance to the owner of the bear.
Lynn noted that in all the years his wife Maggie made the bears, the orders had come from 45 different states and even a few different countries.
In his best estimate of how many total bears Maggie had sewn, “I'm thinking it was about 5,000,” Lynn said.
Sadly in August 2021, Maggie died.
"Locals still cherish Pierce's efforts, bears"
Many people in the West Point community have a Memory Bear that Maggie had made for them.
The importance of libraries to Lynn and Maggie led to memorial funds being donated to the libraries in Winside and West Point.
Lynn noted that even though their two oldest children never went to formal preschool, they still went to “Maggie's preschool.”
“As good as Maggie was at what she crafted, she was an even better mother,” Lynn said, noting that making the Memory Bears made a way to do what Maggie wanted most, which was spending time with her children.
The kits for the recent Make-A-Bear activity for youth held at the John A. Stahl Library in West Point in early June were donated in Maggie's memory.
A Maggie Pierce scholarship is also established at West Point-Beemer High School and is awarded to a senior going into a helping field.
Lynn said that Maggie was honored in another special way. His sister Sherry, a retired schoolteacher in Scottsbluff, has made four Memory Bears for Maggie.
And members of a card-playing club that Lynn and Maggie belonged to also donated a number of bear-themed books to the John A. Stahl library.
One of the members of the card club Jayne Wimer said the group wanted to donate something in honor of Maggie with a special meaning attached.
“We've all been touched by Maggie in some way and we wanted to do something more personal for her,” Jayne said.
That led to the bear books being donated to the library to be read and enjoyed by children.
Jayne's thoughts culminated with sentiments from the community who knew and loved Maggie.
“She was a very kind and loving person,” said Jayne. “And she put a lot of effort and love into each and every bear she made.”
"Article reprinted courtesy of the Enterprise Media Group and West Point News."
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