In 1992 Jean Eaton attended a Mountain Community Women's meeting and began her love affair with teddy bears.
Speaking at the meeting was Toni Lagunoff, founder of the Mountain Bear Fan Club, a den of Good Bears of the World. Jean and husband Bruce had moved to Oakhurst just eight days earlier and Lagunoff's presentation about the therapeutic value of gifting teddy bears and the sheer joy of collecting the adorable stuffed animals caught Jean's fancy.
"Jean immediately joined the teddy bear club and we formed a 20-year sister-like friendship," Lagunoff said.
Eaton passed away in December, preceded by her husband's passing in January 2011.
Eaton will be honored Friday, March 22, during the 2-5 p.m. grand opening of the Teddy Bear Museum in the Sierra and the Jeans Friend's Room at the King Vintage Museum, 40680 Highway 41. The grand opening continues 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sunday. Tours, refreshments and bear hugs will be available during Friday's event.
"We frequently discussed with Jean a local teddy bear museum with Marlene Thomas, international vice president of dens for Good Bears of the World and avid collector Carol Atwood," Lagunoff said. "The four of us are radical bear collectors and wanted to share and display Jean's passion."
The museum features bears from all four of the collectors and many others.
The museum features a collection of more than 250 teddy bears, including antique and artist bears, along with the history of the Teddy Roosevelt Bear and a BBC video presentation on the Good Bears of the World organization.
Jean Eaton served as co-chair of the "Mother Bear's Day Teas" for many years and according to Lagunoff, "hosted those teas with elegance and charm, cooking, decorating and gathering silent auction items to raise funds for the club."
Lagunoff said Eaton subscribed to every teddy bear magazine there was, attended bear shows and began meeting teddy bear artists.
"She (Jean) had magnificent taste and loved the stories that came with each bear," Lagunoff said. "She became well-known within the Teddy Bear world and her personal collection was a unique mix of high end manufacturer's bears and very special one-of-a-kind artist themed bears.''
She eventually became the Western Regional Coordinator of Dens for Good Bears of the World and penned many articles for "Bear Tracks," the world-wide organization's quarterly publication.
Eaton was one of the founders of the "Angels Amongst Us" Awards that recognize community angels for their contributions to the Mountain Area and for 17 years she served on the selection committee. Both Jean and Bruce were recipients of angel awards.
The Teddy Bear Museum features some of Eaton's personal collection of more than 500 bears, on loan from her family. Display cases are full of Teddy Roosevelt patriotic bears, English bears, miniature bears and antique bears dating back 100 years. Bear books and toys are also on display.
The non-profit Mountain Bear Fan Club gifts more than 10,000 teddy bears annually to ambulance companies, cancer centers, Children's Hospital Central California, fire and sheriff departments, California Highway Patrol. foster care, Helping Hands, Rotary clubs, Mountain Area dentists, Urgent Care and other organizations. Anyone seeking teddy bears for an organization or for individual gifting can contact the club. Annual membership to the club is $20 which helps purchase bears.
"The bear museum had been a long time dream of Jeans and it is now a tribute to her memory," Lagunoff said
Details: King Vintage Museum, owned and operated by Wild Wonderful Women, P.O. Box 303, Oakhurst, CA, 93644. (559) 658-6999. Annual membership: $24. Mountain Bear Fan Club, P.O. Box 2071, Oakhurst, CA, 93644. (559) 683-1111. Annual membership: $20.