SPENCER, N.C. (AP) — Inspired by the life of Amy Dawn Morris, the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum embraces the same joy and optimism Amy displayed, even though she suffered from a terminal illness.
Amy, who was confined to a wheelchair and had Wiarnig-Hoffman disease, died at age 21 in 1996.
But not before she made the cheerleading team, played the xylophone for the North Rowan High School marching band, earned all As at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and shared the stage with country singer Tanya Tucker.
“She never said why me,” sister Beth Nance said. “She was always pushing the limits, and she never let her disability impact her life.”
An avid doll collector, Amy left hundreds of Barbies and other dolls to Beth and their mother, Susan Morris.
Beth and Susan have opened the new museum to display Amy’s collection, as well as thousands of other dolls, toys, trains and trucks. The exhibit hall at 108 4th St. is strategically located across the street from the N.C. Transportation Museum, one of the top tourist attractions in Rowan County.
This is no rinky-dink sideshow with a few toys on a couple of shelves.
“It’s really nice,” said visitor Gene Krueger, who stopped by Saturday on his way to the transportation museum. “It’s actually much better than I thought it would be.”
The quality and rarity of the dolls and toys in the Spencer museum compare to the Doll & Miniature Museum of High Point, said Gayle Hansen, an antiques dealer who works throughout the East Coast.
Beyond Spencer and High Point, Gayle points to museums in Kansas and Montana for comparable public exhibits.
“It is absolutely wonderful,” said Gayle, past president of the Rowan Doll Society and vice president of the Golden Dolls Club of Concord.
Gayle and husband Mike Hansen, as well as about 20 other area collectors, have loaned the Spencer museum thousands of items for display, including antique Pinocchios, vintage cap guns, more than 2,000 die-cast model trucks and an array of bride dolls.
Like several members of the Rowan Doll Society, Gayle and Mike serve on the museum’s board of directors, which is pursuing nonprofit status.
From Tinker Toys to model trains to paper dolls, the museum offers an example of nearly every toy that visitors, and probably their parents, will remember.
Exhibits will rotate quarterly, featuring different themes.
Through September, the museum offers exhibits including John Deere toy tractors, Gene and Tonner fashion dolls, patriotic Barbie and friends, 100 years of Girl Scouting and a look at the evolution of the doll.
This exhibit includes dolls made from cloth, wood, papier mache, china, metal, bisque, celluloid, wax, plastic and finally vinyl.
History buffs should check out the Miss Row Ann exhibit, which uses dolls to illustrate historic events in Rowan County.
Local collectors are thrilled to have a place to share their prized possessions with the public, Beth said.
Until now, collectors used temporary displays at area libraries and the Hall House.
“This is a really good chance to have something permanent, where people can come and look at the dolls,” Gayle said. “We are hoping it becomes a destination and people who are coming to the transportation museum will run across the street.”
Organizers stress the educational component of the museum, which will offer programming and interactive displays for children. An event room will host birthday parties, doll-making classes, lectures and workshops.
Children can join the Junior Doll Collectors Club, and the museum will offer annual memberships. Regular admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children.
Robin Johnson is the paid administrator, and museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
When the building next to the Spencer Post Office came up for sale, Beth’s mother bought it to use as the museum. The women have worked for more than a year to prepare the exhibit hall.
Whether you played with Barbie or G.I. Joe, the museum has something for everyone. The S.C. Toy Soldiers Club has on display two cases full of items. Five model trains run through a 30-by-35 foot display including a waterfall, bridges and tunnels.
On Aug. 4, anyone wearing John Deere gear will receive 10 percent off admission to celebrate the exhibit.
Creating the museum has been a labor of love, Beth said.
“My sister and I were inseparable, and I guess I will never get over her loss,” she said. “But having this place allows me to keep her memory alive and honor her in a way that’s good.”
So many area residents remember Amy Dawn Morris. Now her story, and her dolls, will inspire visitors to the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum.
“To be able to have her legacy as part of the community is really important to me,” Beth said.
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