by Julie Ann Madden
Every little girl needs a baby doll.
Providing dolls for girls became the mission of a former Akron woman after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2011.
Donna (Hansen) Lucken, wife of retired Akron farmer Arlen Lucken of Le Mars and former Akron Care Center Activities Assistant, was diagnosed in February 2011 and underwent six months of chemotherapy treatments.
“When I got done with all my treatments, I thought I can either sit around and feel sorry for myself or I can find something to do,” said Lucken. “I love to sew but I didn’t want to do any big projects. My daughter, Susan, told me about some little girls in Sioux City she thought really needed a doll.”
“So, I bought a couple dolls and made outfits for them,” she told The Akron Hometowner. “I thought this is sure fun, I think I’ll get some more.”
On her first trip to a Goodwill store in Sioux City, Lucken discovered “Doll Heaven.”
“There were some new dolls,” said Lucken. “There were some in really good shape and some that could be fixed up.”
Many were for just a quarter, with the majority under a dollar.
“I started checking Goodwills, thrift stores and clearance aisles in other stores,” she explained. “That’s how it started. I think I know every thrift store, Goodwill in a 50-mile radius.”
Just last month, Lucken had nearly 80 dolls in various conditions and a plan for each doll to have three outfits, a blanket, a hat and a bag in which to place the doll and its accessories. Her home has become a one-woman doll factory.
“It’s really gotten out of hand,” said Lucken, “but it’s really fun. My husband teases me if he finds me rocking with one that will be it…I’m so lucky because my husband drives me to all the thrift stores.”
Lucken selects dolls, carefully checking to make sure they have all their fingers and toes and no sharp edges or parts. In addition, she makes sure some little girl, playing beautician, hasn’t cut off too much of the dolls’ hair, before deciding to bring home the doll.
“Sometimes you get some real finds at thrift stores,” said Lucken, explaining she’s found some brand new dolls, doll clothing and accessories.
One of her greatest finds was a set of twin baby dolls — each found at a different thrift store. She’s making sure the twins stay together — one lucky little girl will get both.
Once Lucken brings the dolls home, she gives each doll a bath, removing spots and stains, and fixes their hair. Then she begins planning their wardrobes.
“I love dolls,” said Lucken, “but dolls need wardrobes. They need clothes or they won’t be much fun if they only have one outfit so I started making clothes for them.”
Sometimes the dolls’ clothes are in such bad shape, Lucken just uses them as a sewing pattern and then throws them away. Other times the dolls’ clothes are just fine after being washed. She’s found that premie and newborn size infant clothing fits most baby dolls.
But she also has created evening dresses for larger dolls. One doll even became “Baby’s First Halloween” doll after her daughter brought her such a cute outfit.
“But I told her I wasn’t taking the doll tricks or treats,” said Lucken.
“I sew about every day,” she said, explaining some days she just picks one doll to sew for that day. “Whenever I feel kind of down in the dumps, I’ve got to come down here (to her basement where the dolls are).”
When she decided each doll needed a blanket, Lucken began knitting blankets for some of the dolls — if she can’t find just the right blanket for it on her thrift store journeys, which include trips to Helping Hands Thrift Store in Akron.
In addition, a woman volunteered to look for more dolls and another agreed to make them hats.
“I’d love to see the little girls who are going to get these dolls but I won’t be able to,” said Lucken. “My daughter says there are going to be some happy little girls.”
All the dolls were ready for their new homes by Dec. 1.
With such a “throw-away society, I can hardly wait until after Christmas because girls will get new dolls and their old ones will end up at thrift stores and Goodwills,” said Lucken.“When I look in a toy bin and see these sad, lonely dolls, I think I’ve got to take you home and do something with you.”
“I was just going to do two when I started,” laughed Lucken, who was already making plans to brighten girls’ lives in the New Year.