Dolly Bears

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Written by Claire Aldenhuysen Updates From AMA History Preserved As seen in the March 2020 issue of Model Aviation.

MOST OF THE 12,000 artifacts in the National Model Aviation Museum’s collection have obvious ties to aeromodeling, ranging from model airplanes to the wealth of competition paraphernalia associated with the Nats, but some acquisitions seem, for lack of a better term, odd.

A case in point is a small collection of teddy bears. Lovingly handcrafted, these bears are a testament to the legacy of AMA Model Aviation Hall of Fame Inductee Margaret "Dolly" Wischer. Like many aeromodelers, Dolly was incredibly creative, and her talents were put to good use within the hobby.

this little bear badge was used to advertise dollys efforts
This little bear badge was used to advertise Dolly’s efforts to sell the bears to raise money for the AMA Building Fund (to pay off the former AMA Headquarters in Reston VA). (Source: National Model Aviation Museum Collection, donated in honor of Dolly Wischer, 2010.53.01.)

According to her AMA History Project biography, Dolly was known for her natural ability to quickly produce signs for the Nats—a skill that was appreciated by contest directors and attendees alike. As a competitor, she likely saw the need for clear and concise directions!

Dolly also was responsible for the design of a Carl Goldberg model, the Falcon 56. It started life as the Super Zue, which was controlled by a scratch-built, pulse-proportional radio that Dolly also designed.

She frequently served as a mechanic for her husband, Bob, and was the RC Scale team manager in 1984 and 1986 for the US FAI teams, accompanying them to France and Norway.

But what Dolly is most remembered for are, of course, her teddy bears. She first tried her hand at sewing the cuddly creatures after the 1980 Nats in Wilmington, Ohio. She and Bob were staying at a dorm with another family, Bob and Rae Underwood and their daughters, Anne and Cathy. All four women were looking through a craft book when they came across a sewing pattern for a teddy bear. Dolly’s initial reaction to the pattern was, "That shouldn’t be too hard to make!"

Dolly was known for being frugal and she utilized everything she could to create her bears. She not only received donations of faux fur and leather for the bears, but also was given lint from industrial dryers to stuff the bears with! The bears even featured movable joints that were assembled from Ball canning jar lid inserts and metal brads—the former being from her own pantry of homegrown preserved produce.

Not long after, Dolly began selling her handcrafted bears to benefit the AMA. She sold her "Dolly bears" at AMA trade show booths, the Nats, and FAI World Championship events. Each bear sold for $25 and proved to be popular souvenirs for modelers to take home, especially as gifts for family members who weren’t modelers. She even led sewing workshops for non-competing family members of the FAI teams to foster a sense of camaraderie and friendship, despite language and cultural differences.

By 1988, she had raised more than $3,000 for the AMA! She produced several thousand teddy bears in a variety of sizes and became known throughout the hobby as "the Bear Lady." Not only did she carry this affectionate title, Dolly was also selected as an AMA Fellow in 1974, honored with the President’s Legion of Honor Award in 1986, and was inducted into the AMA Model Aviation Hall of Fame in 1988.

Dolly passed away in 2013, but her legacy lives on through the beloved teddy bears that accompanied her wherever she went!

two bears made by dolly
Two bears made by Dolly. The smaller one is the type that she would take as a kit to international events. (Source: National Model Aviation Museum Collection, donated by Jay Mealy, 2010.44.01-.02.)
dolly wischer is surrounded by a number of her handmade
Dolly Wischer is surrounded by a number of her handmade bears. (Source: National Model Aviation Museum Collection, Accession file 2010.53. Photograph provided by Bob Underwood.)

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2 comments

Dolly was quite a lady. I met her and Bob at a Masters Scale prelim event at Rough River, KY in the early to mid '80s. She was busy enough in support of Bob, who was competing, but not too busy to keep up friendly conversation with other competitors and spectators AND sewing on a "Dolly" Bear. Yes, very fond memories. Thanks Claire for the article.

My daughter was born Aug 31st 1986. We received a Dolly bear as a gift from Betty and her daughter Sussie Stream. I think I still have it in a box somewhere. She loved the bear growing up.

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