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Teddy Bear and Toy Museum Opens in Chelsea, Michigan

Ken Yenke — Curator

July 25 - 26, 2008
By: Diana Stanton

Kara and Bob Turner, proprietors, with a 'beary' special factory and purpose.
Exiting the hot and sunny Interstate, and turning down the cool, tree lined main street in Chelsea, MI, one can't help but notice the quaint houses with their peaked roofs, wrap-around front porches and flowering shrubs. The downtown area was a buzz with vendors selling their wares, bicycle racers, dogs and children dressed for the Mardi Gras parade.

Main Street in Chelsea, MI

This little dog seems to smile as she prepared to march in the parade.
Chelsea Summerfest on July 25-26, 2008 also marked the grand opening of the Chelsea Toy Museum, housed in the Chelsea Teddy Bear Factory. Ken Yenke, avid teddy bear collector, author and Antiques Road Show appraiser, is the curator of the museum. Tucked in the cases are bears and memorabilia dating back 105 years. The museum houses many of Ken's personal teddy bear collection. "We still have a few bears at home," he said with a twinkle in his eye.

During the Museum's opening reception party was hosted by Bob and Kara Turner (R), the Chelsea Teddy Bear Factory owners, Ken and his wife, Brenda (L).

Ken spoke about their collection; how he got started collecting and his passion for discovering old vintage bears. Toys have become a favorite of his too.

Brenda enjoys restoring vintage bears, mostly for their own personal collection. 'It can take an hour to a week to clean and restore an old bear," she said.

Valerie Rogers, of Bright Star Promotions, flew in from Louisville to wish the Turners and Yenkes great success on their new venture.

A wide variety of vintage bears can be seen at the museum. Many of the bears and toys over 100 years old.

Ken and Brenda Yenke took time to catch their breath between their informative presentations.

Ken demonstrated a small child's portable record player (R) that when, assembled from its traveling case, and wound, would still play a tune. "It's amazing after 100 years it still plays," remarked Brenda. "We love sharing our bears and teddy bear history with others." Ken joked with the audience while showing a vintage 'yes/no' bear; a gold bear that moves its head up and down and side to side when the tail is moved. The little bear was having a good time at the party too!

Ben Savino, from The Toy Store located in Toledo, Valerie Rogers and Mary Beth enjoyed chatting about teddy bears, of course!

Ken pointed out treasures to the attending collectors.

Flying high above the showroom floor, we spotted a huge American flag. Upon closer inspection we saw the stars and stripes were made of small red, white and blue teddy bears. Below the flag hung a certificate; A Guinness World Record was set by the teddy bear flag.

Valerie Rogers spoke briefly, complimenting Ken on his dedication to teddy bears and preserving their heritage. He is often a featured guest and appraises teddy bears at her popular teddy bear shows.

An assortment of tasty refreshments were served Friday evening by the friendly company staff.

Dick Frantz, the USA Steiff Teddy Bear representative, spoke about how teddy bears began and became such a popular collectible. Read

Sandy Humanski of Good Bears of The World couldn't resist giving a Chelsea Teddy Bear a big hug.

Ken circulated through the crowd, explaining the various features and details of antique bears.

A large crowd enjoyed learning more about teddy bear collecting and a tour through the Chelsea Teddy Bear Factory.

Chelsea Black Bear

Goodwill ambassadors for Good Bears of the World, Paul, Sandy and Terrie, brought bears to the festivities too.

Good Bears of the World is a non-profit organization, that gifts the familiar brown bear to police, fire and emergency departments, who in turn give the little bear to those in need of a hug.

GBW Bears were donated to the Chelsea Fire Department.

Saturday morning was a flurry of activity in the town of Chelsea too. Alicia Jaros, Miss Washtenaw 2008, floated through the crowd as the pet parade began to form. Dogs and children dressed in traditional Mardi Gras colors, adorned with beads and wearing fancy head dresses, gathered near the feed and seed store. Their parade route wandered in and around many exclusive arts and crafts booths; bringing smiles to everyone.

Throughout the morning, out-of-town collectors and town citizens registered their favorite teddy bear to be included in possibly another Guinness World Record; the largest Peace Sign made entirely of teddy bears!

The Chelsea Teddy Bear Factory mascot made her way through the crowd; dancing and giving hugs to children of all ages!

During the weekend festivities there were factory tours with an informative presentation by Dick Frantz, the Steiff Bear representative.

A line of curious visitors brought their cherished old teddy bears to Ken for his appraisals.

A young collector picked out a new bear and a smart outfit too!

Fascinated with an old time tin toy replica, this little girl's attention was captured for a long time.

The arts and crafts street was ready for the day's shoppers to arrive.

The gracious staff at the Chelsea Teddy Bear Factory and Toy Museum found themselves exceptionally busy helping collectors select and buy bears, outfits, clothing and souvenirs.

"Our bears find their way into service men and women's arms," began Kara Turner, "and it makes them feel good knowing the teddy bear's tag says 'made in the USA!'. The Chelsea Teddy Bear Company is the largest supplier of stuffed animals to the Armed Forces. "Oh look, it's a sailor's outfit," pointed a shopper, "there's an Army uniform on a bear too!"

The crowd gathered at noon and strategically placed their bears in the familiar peace symbol sign. Hovering high above the crowd, a hook and ladder fire truck took its position with a photographer in the bucket, to photograph the peace symbol and cheering crowd from above.

Children curiously stood patiently and watched the bears being placed in a circle.

The hook and ladder fire truck took its position high above the crowd.

Spectators held their fingers in the well known peace sign, and cheered while circling the large teddy bear peace sign.
Bob Turner gives the Peace Sign as he stood next to the new Guinness World Record Teddy Bear Peace Sign.

"We've done it!' exclaimed Bob Turner, "I believe we've achieved another teddy bear world record!"

The teddy bear peace sign will be found in the pages of the Guinness World Record Book at their next publication and the certificate will hang proudly in the Chelsea Teddy Bear Museum soon.

At the end of the day vendors packed up their arts, crafts and table displays, children took naps in their strollers, and the quaint town of Chelsea resumed its normal pace. But the Chelsea Bear Factory will hum Monday as workers return to make more teddy bears.

Everyone enjoyed the weekend events and "now I know a lot more about teddy bears," remarked one of the patrons.


Did you know that Chelsea is the home of Jiffy Mix? Located right on main street next to the railroad tracks.

Chelsea Standard Newspaper article

Photographs courtesy of: Valerie Rogers and Sandy Humanski

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