Telegram Staff Writer
The single lady is far from lonely.
She's got plenty of bears to keep her company - 1,035 of them, in fact.
'I don't know how this collection got so big,' said Wanda 'Jean' Sims of Gatesville. 'It just happened, but I can tell you I love every single one of my bears.'
It all started in 1983.
'We had a precious little dog - Susie - and she loved stuffed animals,' Ms. Sims said. 'So I'd buy her little toys from the Goodwill store, and one day I got her a teddy bear, and she loved it, but I thought it was too pretty for her to chew on, so I kept it.'
That teddy bear prompted the purchase of another and another. 'And then people started giving me teddy bears,' Ms. Sims said. 'There were teddy bears for birthdays and Christmas and teddy bears just because someone went on a vacation.'
Soon she had more teddy bears than her living room could hold. She had to start displaying them in the guest bedroom - and a few years later, in her master bedroom.
'I can always tell when someone comes and thinks I'm an idiot for having all these bears,' Ms. Sims said. 'One time a friend came over and she had that look on her face, and it embarrassed me, so I told my husband about it.'
Her husband, Clarence Sims, died in 1993.
'He told me that if I liked the teddy bears, then I should keep them right where they were,' Ms. Sims said. 'He said, 'I don't care if you hang teddy bears from the ceiling, as long as I can make it to my chair, the bed, the bathroom and the coffee pot, then everything's great.'
So Ms. Sims kept her teddy bears and never felt ashamed of them again.
'They've become part of me and this house,' Ms. Sims said. 'They're sweet and cute.'
They're also valuable. Most of her bears are in mint condition, and at least half of them bear the name of a top-notch teddy, like Paddington, Berenstain and Gund.
'In the bear circuit, these guys can bring in high dollars,' Ms. Sims said.
Gund is the brand name of a popular teddy bear in Germany. Ms. Sim's got Gund bears that date to the early 1900s.
And the Paddington Bear is the creation of Michael Bond of London, a longtime children's book author. First published in 1958, the Paddington stories follow the adventures of a little boy bear named Paddington.
'He's forever getting lost,' Ms. Sims said. 'He's on a boat, in a train, always trying to find his way home.'
The journeys are full of adventure, and Paddington always learns a good lesson that makes him a better bear.
Bond's stories have been a mainstay in children's literature for the last five decades, and not just in the United States. The 70 Paddington stories have been translated into 30 languages. Bond's most recent story, 'Paddington Here and Now,' was published in 2008.
One of Ms. Sims's favorite bears is a Paddington. A gift from her husband, it stands near the front door, always ready to welcome her home with a smile.
'The little bear traveled all the way from the darkest area of Peru,' Ms. Sims said. 'See the sign on his neck, it says 'Please care for this bear.''
Her Berenstain Bears wave from the mantle in the living room. She's got another set of them in the back bedroom.
These bears come from the minds of Jan and Stan Berenstain. They gave life to the bear family in 1962 with their children's book 'The Big Honey Hunt.'
Main characters are Papa Bear, the woodworker father; Mama Bear, the homemaker wife; and the three children, Brother Bear, Sister Bear and Honey Bear. The stories are set in Bear Country, a society composed entirely of bears, and feature topics relevant to everyday family life, like growth spurts, school and growth spurts.
'They're very popular to this day,' Ms. Sims said.
Between the story books and the NBC TV cartoon, there's been hundreds of Berenstain adventures.
Ms. Sims keeps some of her 'high-dollar bears' in the china cabinet.
'That way the glass door keeps the dust off of them,' Ms. Sims said. 'But you can still see them.'
Dust - that's a worry for Ms. Sims.
'Everyday's a dusting day,' Ms. Sims said. 'I've got the bears divided into groups, so there's always a dusting rotation.'
The system she's devised seems to work.
Neighbor Kenneth Riddle and his granddaughter, 18-year-old Ashton Ramminger, say Ms. Sims' bears always looks splendid.
'She works real hard to keep it up,' Riddle said.
Miss Ramminger has fond memories of the bear world in Ms. Sims' house.
'(Ms. Sims) used to watch me after school when I was little,' Miss Ramminger said. 'The neatest thing was that it didn't matter what bear I picked up, she could always tell me the story behind it and where she got it.'
As Miss Ramminger grew up, she said Ms. Sims would teach her about the history of famous teddy bears and which kinds of bears to look for at antique shops.
'I caught a bit of her love for them,' Miss Ramminger said.
She keeps her dozen bears on the couch at her grandparents' house in Gatesville.
Grandpa Riddle's OK with that. He loves his granddaughter, and he loves Ms. Sims like a sister.
'But he's a big teaser,' Ms. Sims said. 'He thinks me collecting bears is cooky, so he buys me pigs.'
So Ms. Sims keeps a tiny shelf in the living room for the pigs. But it's barely visible; the teddies are the ones in control.
Living room, 98
Front bedroom, 142
Back bedroom, 152
Dining room, 145
Husband's room, 150
Back bath, 53
Hall bath, 17
Beanie Baby Bears, 193
Teenie Beanie Bears, 56
Paddington Bears, 37
State Quarter Bears, 50
Kimberly Originals, 15
Wee Ben Village Bears, 31
The list goes on...