For Margo Kadair, Christmas memories are sparked by her collection of dolls.
But these are not just any dolls. Kadair has amassed of collection of Simpich dolls, charmingly realistic characters that have become collector's items.
Kadair's collection began in the mid-1970s when she and her husband, Dr. Roy Kadair, lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while he was serving in the military. Two of his patients, Adna and Joan Wilde, gave the Kadairs their first Simpich doll.
For those not in the doll world, Bob and Jan Simpich were the creators of the dolls that bear their name. The story goes that as young newlyweds in 1952 without any money, they made a set of carolers for their parents as Christmas gifts. Others saw them, wanted their own, and, within a few years, the couple had a growing business of creating handmade dolls in Colorado Springs.
The animated faces of each doll were made from an original mold, like a sculpture, then carefully hand painted. The costumes were also hand sewn and the dolls carefully dressed. Over the years, many different dolls were created, and, occasionally, limited editions, which are especially collectible, were produced. In 2007, the couple closed the business to concentrate on painting.
During their years in Colorado, the Kadairs and the Wildes became good friends.
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"Even after we moved back to Baton Rouge, through the years, they continued to send one doll a year," Kadair said.
Baton Rouge neighbors Mary Ann and Bobby Evans spent summers in Colorado Springs and would bring back new dolls for the Kadairs' collection, which now includes some 15 dolls.
The dolls, Kadair said, remind her of her friendships with the Wildes and Evanses, who are all now deceased.
The Kadairs' collection of carolers congregates on the living room mantel. There's the choir girl, a couple of singers, a mandolin player, a man with a lantern, a drummer boy and a newsboy with the message of Christmas printed on his newspaper. The characters are displayed with a Simpich lantern, which lights up.
At the feet of the carolers are two Simpich Yorkshire terriers in honor of a number of Yorkies the Kadairs have raised over the years. Their latest, Bogey, has his own Christmas tree with an assortment of Yorkie ornaments and gifts.
"Everybody has given us Yorkie ornaments over the years," Kadair said. "The dog gets more gifts than we do."
On a table to the right of the mantel are three Simpitch limited edition figures — a doctor, a London bobby and the "Joy Bringer," ordered by the Salvation Army for the centennial of its Rocky Mountain region.
The "Joy Bringer" is costumed in the style of the early 1900s with a dress of traditional blue cotton, a red cape and a copy of "War Cry," the official Salvation Army magazine. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the doll provided funds for Salvation Army projects including three wilderness camps for underprivileged children in the Estes Park, Colorado, area.
During the years the Simpiches were in business, they made many different series including Cloud Babies, elves, Pilgrims, angels, Victorian figures and characters from classic literature. Even though the dolls are no longer made, they are still collected.
After the holidays, Kadair stores the dolls upright in boxes, first stuffing the skirts with tissue paper. She seals each box with plastic so the figures will be perfect when she opens the boxes to her memories the next year.