Mary Klenda did not have dolls to play with when she was growing up near Lost Springs. One of nine children, she had plenty of real-life babies to play with, but she remembers getting her first doll at age 13. Now she has a collection of 600 porcelain dolls at her home in Hillsboro. On Friday, she displayed 77 of them at the Hillsboro City Building.
“A couple of ladies I work with here asked me to bring them,” Klenda said. “I’ve never done a public display before.”
Klenda, a custodian at the city building, said she came to work early Friday to set up her dolls for the display.
“It takes a long time to get them set up and fix their hair,” she said. “But I love working with them.”
Klenda said all her dolls had names; they came with official tagged names or she named them after people who gave them to her.
“Once people found out I liked them, I just got them as presents for birthdays and Christmas,” she said. “I also got some at garage sales or the thrift shop.”
Klenda volunteers her time at the Hillsboro Et Cetera Shop and sometimes finds a good deal there.
“I bought this Christmas patchwork doll there,” she said. “She was missing an eyebrow, but I can fix that.”
Klenda said she collected porcelain dolls because she liked them. She does not consider herself a doll rescuer, but if they need fixing, she can do that.
“I bought one once that had an eye missing,” she said. “I could hear it jingling down inside the head so I used a tweezers to pull it up and glue it back in place.”
Other dolls in Klenda’s collection occasionally need different clothes or simple cleaning.
“I’ll wash their clothes if they need it, fix their hair, or just dust them off with a hair dryer,” she said. “With the pumpkin doll, I can take that part of her costume off and put on something else for a different time of year if I want.”
Several special dolls are part of the collection. Two state dolls are dressed in costumes reflecting the origins of Connecticut and New Jersey. They each hold a small bag with their state quarter inside. A Jackie Onassis doll is also a special standout for Klenda, but sentimental value makes others stand out.
A set of “kissing” gift dolls she named Carol and Byron, after her good friends Carol and Byron McFadden of Hillsboro.
“This was one of my first gifts that got me into collecting them,” Klenda said.
She said many of her dolls are named after siblings, children, and extended relatives.
“My son in Minnesota gave me this one,” she said, pointing out a decorative prairie belle with long ringlets. “I named her Tracy after his wife. It helps me remember where each one came from.”
Klenda said some of her favorites in her collection were the bridal dolls.
“I just love their layered skirts, lace-edged sleeves, and pearl-bead trim,” she said. “My own wedding dress was straight and plain, but these are like a dream.”
The oldest doll in Klenda’s collection carries a tag dating it in the 1950s, and many of the wedding dress dolls are from the 1960s.
“I like them all,” Klenda said. “It’s just a fun pastime.”