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Vickroy: ‘Hospital’ restores dolls, childhood sentiments

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Updated: August 22, 2013 6:50AM



Rosalie Jostes still remembers the crash. She was just 5 and had run into the living room to turn on “Rin Tin Tin.”

“There came a loud thud, and I just knew she had fallen,” Jostes said.

Her beloved Marie, a doll with a composition face and a magic skin body, had tumbled from the chair and crashed face-first onto the hard, tiled floor, her beautiful face broken into pieces.

“I cried hysterically,” Jostes said. “I thought she was dead.”

Her parents kept saying they’d get her another doll, but she didn’t want another doll.

So that night, her father sat up gluing all the pieces back together. Later, when she was older, Jostes had the doll repaired professionally.

That was 55 years ago. Jostes is reminded of that incident every time a customer enters her Dollmenders Doll Hospital, inside The Tawny Tortoise gift shop in Plainfield.

The doll in need of repair might be a little girl’s best friend or a grown woman’s lone childhood connection. Or it just might be a collector’s treasure.

Regardless, Jostes treats them all with love and care, sometimes sitting up at night researching how to fix an unusual problem. And she’s seen them all: broken limbs, disfigured faces, missing eyes or eyelashes, and dolls in need of a good shampoo and set.

Jostes opened Dollmenders in 1994 after she had difficulty finding a doll repair shop near her home in Channahon. She’d been buying antique dolls at flea markets and garage sales and some of them needed to be cleaned up a bit.

With nowhere to turn, she signed up for a correspondence course in doll repair out of Philadelphia.

“I was expecting my daughter at the time and was looking for some kind of work I could do at home,” she said.

The mother of four and grandmother of four started with rag dolls and worked her way up through walking dolls. Today, she works on all kinds, from antiques to American Girl dolls, often relying on a 4-inch-thick binder filled with tips and repair procedures that she calls “the doll medical book.”

The only dolls she doesn’t work on are mechanical or talking dolls.

Most customers have sentimental attachments to their dolls, although some are collectors who’ve come across an antique at a garage or estate sale.

Jostes also sells vintage and antique dolls and clothing in the shop. Manufacturers include Madame Alexander, F&B, Ideal and Mattel. And she pitches in at the cash register of The Tawny Tortoise, which sells gifts, collectibles and novelty items.

Jostes still has Marie, although she admits after this long, her childhood friend could use a little cosmetic surgery.

“I’m ashamed to say she has deteriorated a bit. Customers come first. I’ll have to try and sneak her into the assembly line one day,” she said.

She tries to work quickly because she understands that some customers are stressed by being separated from their doll. She remembers one little girl whose mother had recently died. The child hated hospitals and cried when she entered Dollmenders with her favorite doll that was badly in need of repair.

“We spent a great deal of time comforting her, showing her all the friends her doll would have while she stayed at the hospital,” Jostes said. ”Then I worked as fast as I could and got it fixed and all was fine.”

Jostes gets help from her husband, Phil. Both are members of the Doll Doctors Association, a group with members across the country and in Europe. Phil is a past president and she a past vice president. Phil is president of the Illinois chapter.

“We are always working on dolls. On weekends, on holidays, sometimes through the night,” she said. “We’re very fortunate that business is good.”

In addition to the Plainfield gift shop, customers can drop off damaged dolls at Anna B’s in Orland Park and The Little Traveler in Geneva.

She’s also done some international work, repairing dolls for customers in Canada and Ireland.

“We’ve tried to keep our prices the same over the years because we understand how hard it is for people today,” she said. For example, for a doll from the Orland Park area, it will cost between $30 and $35 to repair two arms, both of which had broken off and had been glued back on. Jostes will clean out all the glue and then re-string the arms the way the manufacturer originally had attached them. She’ll finish off the repair job with a shampoo and set.

All of the restoration work, which also can include airbrushing and eye replacement, is done at her home in the far southwest suburb.

“Little girls have changed over the years. Today their doll is more likely to be their best friend as opposed to their baby, like it was when I was a kid,” she said. “But one thing hasn’t changed: A doll is still very special.”

Dollmenders is in The Tawny Tortoise, 24012 W. Lockport St., Plainfield; (815) 436-4660;
www.thetawnytortoise.com.

Dolls also can be dropped off at Anna B’s Antiques, 14330 Beacon Ave., Orland Park, and at The Little Traveler, 404 Third St., Geneva.



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