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Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Teddy Bear Sisters

Sisters Julia Lewis (L) and Linda Lewis Lee (R)
When I attended Branson Veterans Week last November, I interviewed these two lovely, fascinating ladies I claim as dear friends. This article appeared in the MWSA Dispatches Winter 2018 issue.

Service comes in many forms and shapes. Two sisters, Julia Lewis and Linda Lewis Lee, chose a unique path that springs from their creative minds. Fashioning teddy bears from veterans’ uniforms has become a mission of love and joy for them.

I first met the sisters through Linda’s husband, Roy Lee, who was a WWII veteran. Julia is a veteran of the Missouri National Guard. Over the years, they have shared their love of Branson (MO) Veterans Week, their creative spirits, love, laughter and lots of great gumbo. It’s been my good fortune to share many good times with them.

Julia and Linda come from a family of 13 siblings – six girls and seven boys. Out of necessity, their mother made all of their clothes. The sisters learned sewing skills at a young age. Julia learned to embroider at the age of five.

Their love of the military comes from a family history of service. Julia spent 24 years in the Missouri National Guard. Two brothers served in Korea and two in Vietnam. Another joined the Air Force.

“I’d love to have a teddy bear made from my dad’s (husband’s, wife’s or mother’s) uniform,” became a comment they frequently heard. “To many, it’s a way to hold a loved one close to their hearts and to remember the sacrifices he or she made,” Julia said.

Julia and Linda have responded to these requests and to date, between the two of them, have made over 300 bears. Not all of them are made from military uniforms. Many times it’s a favorite quilt that Grandma made or a special piece of clothing that a loved one wore.

Linda sold her first bear to an airman being deployed. He wanted Linda to make a bear so his three-year-old daughter wouldn’t forget him while he was gone. Another customer asked her to make a bear out of her mother’s 100-year-old blue fox coat.

For years, Julia has worked with a special needs camp in the St. Louis area. She has made dozens of bears and other articles for the kids involved. At the Town & Country Fair in Washington, MO, she has taken home many blue ribbons and a “Best of Show” trophy. 

The sisters’ greatest sense of accomplishment comes from creating bears that keep memories alive for families of military personnel. They take pride in replicating a person’s uniform, including pockets, patches and medals.

Julia lives in St. Louis, MO, and Linda in Shreveport, LA. Their “teddy bear” projects have brought them closer over the last few years, especially since Linda’s husband, Roy Lee, passed. They talk almost daily, share ideas for bears and work together on projects. The bears give them a reason for frequent extended visits.

Not only do they make the bears, they also fall in love with every creation. Since each one is custom-made, Julia and Linda find that the bears develop their own personalities.

Most of the bears are created from special orders and take anywhere from four days to a week to complete.

If you have a uniform or a piece of your family’s history that you’d like to save and share with family members, the teddy bears provide an ideal way to do so. Julia and Linda would be happy to create a special bear for you or a loved one.

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