The Joy Bears Story

As the sheriff car pulled into our driveway late one afternoon I did not at first think the deputies were here at our home for other then recent happenings in our neighborhood. After all, living in a small town it is not uncommon to find yourself chatting with local police officers. Everyone pretty much knows everyone else in this community! My husband and I even stepped out the door to greet the deputies. After all, one of the officers walking up the sidewalk was a young man that had graduated high school with our son! The officers asked us politely to please step into the house. And then to please sit down on the couch. It was at this point that I knew instantly that the officers were at our home not as a courtesy call, but to deliver some bad news.

Yes, tragic news. Our daughter, Joy, age 42, had been killed instantly in a two vehicle head on collision in Portage, MI, on a curvy stretch of Sprinkle rd. A beautiful, ordinary day-may 31, 2017-had been shattered, and in the immediate disbelief and shock, we knew that our lives would never be the same.

Returning home to Baraga after Joy’s memorial service, i felt a loss of what to do myself. The trivial matters of everyday life seemed so unimportant in the face of the loss of Joy. Normally, I would fill any free time with sewing and quilting, my favorite hobby. Even that didn’t spark my interest. Until an idea came to me: what if I purchased Teddy Bears and made a small quilt to wrap each bear in? Would it be possible to present these Bears and quilts to the Portage Public Safety Department in honor and memory of Joy? After calling to discuss my idea with Chaplain Ken Hovenkamp, who heartily agreed that this indeed was a great idea, “Joy Bears” was born.

I immediately began making quilts and started looking for teddy bears in June of 2017. I found that I was, and continue to be, passionate about this ministry. Sewing the quilts has turned out to be a big part of my own healing process. In addition, this was turning a tragedy into something positive by helping children in difficult situations around the Portage area, all in honor of Joy. My vision was that the Bears could be placed in police cars, ambulances, be with al first responders so that a small bit of comfort could be offered a child in an emergency situation. These Bears could be used at shelter homes, for foster children, for any number of situations where a child is impacted by a difficult situation.

One year after Joy’s death, I have donated a total of 55 bears and quilts to the Portage Dept of Public Safety. I have several friends who are now helping me with the project by buying teddy bears for me. But I myself have sewn every single one of the quilts, and still find comfort and healing in the process. I love knowing that a child will hug and love each bear, even though I am saddened that so many children are in the position of needing this bit of comfort.

Tonight as I look around my sewing room, I see about 20 bears that need a quilt and a home. I had better get busy doing what I love to do!