By Galyle Walton Fuller
Helen Riel Everts, with the help of her husband, Harold Everts, made fur bears as a hobby from old fur garments. Joy was written all over their faces, along with great anticipation for the finished product to be sent off to new and old friends, relatives and many former customers of my father’s fur business — Gale Walton Furs.
“Bear Tracks” lead Helen to almost every part of the United States. I am so proud to be a recipient of a great many of her bears. I told her if I had any more bears, I would have to start a national bear park.
Helen made her first bear from my worn out powder blue (dyed, of course) shirred beaver coat. Father was a member of a team at Superior Fur Dying Company in New York City, who developed the first colored furs that could stand the test of not fading My powder blue coat was one of the first colored beaver coats to hit the streets of Manhattan
At the time, I was attending Juilliard Conservator of Music in New York and was living on Upper West End Avenue — one of the coldest places on earth when winter winds started to howl. That Christmas, father surprised me with this beautiful coat and now Helen was surprising me by making it into her very first cuddly bear. This began Helen’s exciting bear adventure with bear tracks to friends, total strangers, families and extended families across the nation. Plenty of her bear tracks were sighted right here in Geneva.
The arms and legs on her first bears were not jointed. That is when Harold stepped in and added the manpower needed to push, twist and turn those joints into place — a bear chiropractor! He also did the very first step, which was taking each garment apart, so Helen could lay the garment out flat for inspection, cut away the worn parts, position the pattern to go with the flow of the fur which then would make the “best and most” bears for the owner of the garment
As Helen was sewing the last stitches and putting the finishing touches to their little faces, Harold was changing roles to shipping clerk. His garage began to look like the back of a post office. Sometimes they made bear deliveries to experience people’s reactions. This happened when I arrived in Geneva ready to be their chauffeur.
By 1999, I finally found a book, “Bear Tracks” Now Helen could keep track of her fascinating bear journey and all her contacts needing bears. Tucked inside she kept letters requesting bears and how they found her in Geneva. After they received their bear(s) another letter would arrive with a thank you and a kind message with what it meant to their family. Helen delighted in sharing them with me by phone. Bear tracks were picking up. So much so, Helen hardly had time to keep making her angel food cakes for church, but of course she made the time.
One day a big box arrived at my door in Portland, Ore. It was from Helen and Harold. I wasn’t expecting anything from her Could it be more bears? If so, it was going to be a big bear. I tore open the box, threw off the extra tissue paper as if it was my 16th birthday. There they were — all huddled together. Two of them were ocelot and one was made of leopard. Wow! I could guess their sentiment and my guess was right on! I was overwhelmed with emotion since these bears were made from the ocelot and leopard skins my father had used long, long ago, to cover the piano and organ benches in my music room in Geneva. Helen had saved the coverings and made them into “Memory Bears.” I had forgotten all about those fancy fur seat covers. Oh, how sweet it was for Helen and Harold to make them into cuddly bears. Priceless!
Did you know? Bears love to have their pictures taken. It’s part of their DNA. It’s well worth the time to take their pictures and put them into family albums. Before Helen and Harold sent them on their way home, photos were taken and added to albums.
I did the same by arranging “photo shoots” just as if they were going to Barnett’s Photo Studio in Geneva. At least once a year, I would call my friends to ask if the kids (bears) could come over for a photo shoot at their home or business. Photo shoots were normally held on weekends and my office was one of their favorite places to go. On holidays my co-workers at Coldwell Banker Seal in Portland, Ore., may have received beautiful flower arrangements from their spouses or boyfriends, so it was a natural to pack up the kids for a Bear Beautiful photo shoot posing with these pretty posies. The fun continued as these glamour shots were sorted and made the next photo album issue for Helena and Harold to enjoy.
Another place of excitement for a photo shoot was on the golf course sitting in a red golf cart. One kid (bear) wears his Go Big Red cap all year long. Other kids (bears) were invited to birthday parties, high teas and sleep overs.
Tradition! Helen made sure my bear family grew and grew each year, so at Christmas time, after opening their gifts of new ribbons and old jewels, Santa and the “kids” gathered around the Christmas tree for a traditional family portrait for Helen and Harold. Afterwards, treats of milk and Oreo cookies became a tradition.
This story is only an attempt to tell Helen and Harold’s love story with their Bear Tracks to faraway places with strange sounding names. Hundreds of people found Geneva and Helen and Harold Everts, two wonderful people sharing their love while enjoying their retirement years. We understand why some people might not want to wear an old fur coat of their mother’s, grandmother or aunt, even though their father, grandfather or uncle had worked hard to afford it for them. But sure enough, they will accept and love with all their heart a fur bear made from that same fur garment previously worn by their family member with lots of love.
(Editor’s Note: Gayle Walton Fuller of Oregon submitted the following letter to The Nebraska Signal:
Recently I returned to Portland Ore., from visiting a week with Helen and Harold Everts in Geneva, who are now living at Heritage Crossings. Helen recently had lung surgery, celebrated her 88th birthday and starting to show signs of improvement. Her family and many friends are hoping this trend continues.
Helen, her family and Geneva all have a special place in my heart. I am working at writing her story, since she worked for my family, Gale and Helen Walton for 37 years in the fur business. She was hired as my nanny when I was two but later we became more like sisters.
At age 50, after Helen married Harold Everts, she became a farmer’s wife and worked around the farm. When Harold retired, Helen was drawn back into sewing fur again. This time she made cuddly memory bears for friends and total strangers. She was a natural and sure enough Harold was right there helping her. It was a remarkable change for him retiring from farming, moving into town, then helping Helen make fur bears.
You may use any part of this short story or none of it, but others thought I should start sharing these family stories to encourage others to do the same.
Gayle Walton Fuller
827 Lafayette Way
Wilsonville, OR 97070