AURORA — It all began with a single teddy bear from a Streetsboro department store to start a collection now over 1,000 bears large.
Carol Repella, a resident of Aurora since 1963, began collecting stuffed teddy bears in the late 1970s. Whenever she visited the now defunct Fisher’s Big Wheel in Streetsboro, a teddy bear with a squeezable tummy always caught her eye.
Even though she admired the stuffed animal, Carol, a mother of three young children at the time, thought she was too old for toys. When her youngest daughter gifted her the bear one year for her birthday, however, her love for them blossomed.
“It’s kind of like how you get the measles,” Carol said. “It just starts and you can’t stop. Every place I would go where they had teddy bears I would look at them and pick one out.”
Now, more than 1,000 bears decorate most areas in the Carol home, with the collection still expanding. The custom shelving Carol had installed in two of her rooms are so crowded with bears, some have to sit on the floor. They come from all over: from Australia to Germany, from craft shows to dime stores. It seemed wherever she went, Carol found a bear she liked.
No single bear can be called her favorite, Carol said. However, a few stick out. Her children’s childhood bears, bears from Coca-Cola, bears from Lands’ End and bears sent from distant countries all have a special place in her house. She is also fond of the president-themed bears on a shelf in her living room.
Carol said she’s unsure why she is so drawn to them. It is like trying to articulate why chocolate ice cream is your favorite, she said. You can’t really explain why. It just is.
“I look for an overall look on them,” she laughed. “Maybe the way it’s dressed or an expression on its face. How can they have an expression with two eyes that aren’t real and a nose that’s sewed on? It’s just something about it.”
For every teddy bear a memory is attached. Each one is cataloged with a tag and a short file detailing information about when it was purchased, who Carol was with and where it came from. Carol said her husband, Tom Repella, does not have a collection of his own but that he loves the bears as much as she does.
Carol recalls one particular bear she acquired while in Canada with the Aurora Historical Society. The group’s guide was surprised she had time to find a bear during one quick stop.
“They always knew Carol was going to come out with a bear,” Carol said. “Everybody wanted to see the bear.”
Though no longer a member of the Aurora Historical Society, Carol fondly remembers handling kitchen operation during the organization’s antiques shows. She also allowed the society to show some of the bears in an exhibit. Though she enjoyed working and volunteering in the community, Carol, now in her 90s, decided it was time to relax and enjoy her bears.
For some bears in her collection, however, the journey isn’t over.
Once a year, Carol chooses about eight or 10 to donate to Toys for Tots, explaining she hates the idea of a child not having a gift on Christmas. Though the big collection is not drastically expanding, Carol said she is always on the lookout for new bears to bring home. She plans to pass the collection to her youngest daughter one day.
Carol has no plans to get her bears appraised. Though she suspects some may achieve collector status some day, she just sees them as friends she has acquired over the years. She encourages everybody to build their own collection or invest in a hobby they can make their very own.
“You should do something like this yourself,” Carol said. “It means you’ve got something to look forward to. You have the individualism of what it is you like. You can look for them. It’s better than smoking or drinking.”
Reporter Kaitlyn McGarvey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-298-1127