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Her bears come with memories

Betty Rumpel combines two of her favorite things _ antiques and teddy bears _ to make memory bears. The retired teacher picks a theme and decorates the bears with small antiques such as curlers, baking utensils and doll clothing. Each bear gets a tag with its name and a brief description.

Rumpel has made picnic bears, tool bears and prayer bears. The most popular are bingo bears with old bingo cards, nurse bears with old stethoscopes and bandages, and teacher bears with old report cards, globes, slates, books, pens, ink bottles and glasses. The bears cost from $20 to $65.

She's had special orders for a painting bear, a minister bear, a gardener bear and others.

Rumpel, 67, opened the Little Red Schoolhouse at 2720 Fourth St. N in St. Petersburg in April. The shop hours are noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

She came up with the idea for memory bears in 1992 when she had a space in an antique mall. Smaller items such as kitchen items and medicine bottles didn't sell, even though she kept reducing their prices.

Her first bear was a baking bear. She dressed it in a black bonnet and an apron and put a recipe for Amish Friendship Bread and some baking utensils in its hands.

"Everybody raved," she said. "I sold it right away."

Since then, Rumpel estimates she has made hundreds and hundreds of bears. "When people see me, they say, "The bear lady's here,' "Betty bear is here.' "

Rumpel, who has three daughters and four grandchildren, taught school 36{ years in Illinois. When she taught kindergarteners through first-graders, she used teddy bears to help teach the students to write.

The children would pull a name from a hat to see who would take the teddy bear home that night. The student would write a story the next morning about what kind of an evening they had, what they ate for dinner or if they went out.

On weekends, she sold antiques she had collected in a space at an antique mall in Illinois.

In 1992, Rumpel came to Clearwater to care for her daughter who had been badly injured in an automobile accident. After a year of rehabilitation, her daughter was ready to go back to work. Rumpel said, "There was nothing to do but watch TV and play bingo and that is not my thing."

When she decided to retire to Florida from Lombard, Ill., after her daughter's recovery, she had spaces in Tinglers, Sunken Gardens and Ebony and Ivory antique malls. Then she saw the lease sign for her current location.

"I always said someday I'll have an antique/craft store in an old house," she said. "I have never been so tired and so happy. Not many people have their dreams come true. I have to pinch myself."

The shop required lots of work to fix it up the way she wanted. Earl Raznick helped her make repairs and refinish furniture. She made a memory bear for him with glasses, jeans, a cap, boots, a pencil behind its ear and a cello (Raznick plays the cello). "It really looks like him, too," she said.

During a recent tour of her cozy shop, Rumpel wore a chambray shirt with teddy bears appliqued by her daughter and a little red schoolhouse pin on the collar. The shop, an old home, is filled with antiques, collectibles and memory bears. The main room has red apples stenciled on the dark green floor and a wallpaper border of teddy bears in school. The floor in the kitchen is decorated with yellow teddy bear stencils.

The Christmas room has a Scrooge memory bear with a nightcap and candle holder and a Santa bear with an antique leather reindeer.

Rumpel displays most of the bears in the main room under a sign that reads: New bears, old accessories. She also displays bears at Treasured Estates in Pinellas Park.

Among the bears in her shop are a bubble bath bear in an old granite tub with the "bubble bath" made from foam insulation, a farmer bear in a wheelbarrow with a pumpkin, and a bear wearing a rain coat sitting in a red wagon with a green frog.

Others include "Bridget uses her beauty aids," with an old cosmetic box, a curling iron, vanishing cream and a mirror; and "Susan talks on the phone," with a yellow hat, fur stole and an old phone and directory. Rumpel even made a bear in her likeness, "Betty bear gets ready for bed," wearing flannel pajamas, slippers and curlers.

"They have their own personality," she said. "That's the fun part of it."

_ News of appointments and local businesses may be sent to Lisa Pelamati, Times Business News Department, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or to pelamatisptimes.com by e-mail.

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