Mary Charles’ doll collection will end up where she hoped it would — bringing smiles to orphaned children
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor
Mary’s Gift
Members of First Baptist Church are heading to Mexico Sunday to erect the walls of a building to serve as an orphanage, and will be taking the doll collection of the late Mary Helen Charles to distribute to the orphans. “She told me she wanted me to give them to the church or find an orphans home where they would be loved,” says her husband, Charlie Charles (seated). Bruce Welch (standing), minister of education at First Baptist Church, said, “I love having the opportunity to further Mary’s work by blessing the kids in Mexico with her dolls.”
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

June 24,2 005 - Mary Helen Charles may have passed away in February, but she left behind a legacy of love that will remain for years to come.

The collection of dolls she handmade will be distributed among orphans of Coahuila, Mexico, by members of First Baptist Church of Sulphur Springs as they embark on their fourth mission trip across the border.

“I think she’s looking down from heaven and just thrilled to death that some of her dolls are going to Mexico to those little children,” said Charlie Charles, her husband for nearly 59 years. “She worked so hard on them. I’m just elated they’re going to such a good cause.”

Charlie and Mary Charles, married in 1946, joined First Baptist Church of Sulphur Springs in 1960, the year after they and their three young children, Ronnie, Linda and Mary Ann, moved to Sulphur Springs from their hometown of Honey Grove.

Charlie and Mary became active members in the church, as well as in the community, raising their children and working in local businesses such as Pratt Packing, where Charlie was employed for 31 years, and H.D. Lee, where Mary worked for 26 years.

According to Charles, who in semi-retirement worked for ACE Hardware, Mary had always been very creative, keeping herself busy with hobbies such as needlepoint, crochet, quilting and all sorts of crafty enterprises, many of which they did together.

“I enjoyed woodwork, so I’d cut stuff out for her to paint,” explained Charles. “Or when she made little scarecrows I would stuff them for her, and when she started making dolls it was my job to put their eyes on. We just did everything together. Our marriage was very special. And anything Mary loved, I loved.”

Afghans, pillows, coasters, sock monkeys, crocheted Christmas ornaments and angels were among many of the items she fashioned. But it wasn’t until 1984, according to Charles, that she really took an interest in making dolls, and she even began purchasing old, broken and discarded dolls from garage sales that she could repair, fix up and dress in little clothes she sewed herself.

“She just loved dolls,” said Charles. “Raggedy Ann dolls were her favorite. There’s no telling how many of those she made. I know she made about 20 of them that were life-size.”

Mary sold her creations for several years at the Senior Citizens Handmade Market on Connally Street, but after it closed its doors in 2003 her handiwork and beloved dolls ended up in one of the family’s spare bedrooms. And according to Charles, she continually added to the collection, even after last year when she began experiencing pain in her bones and joints.

“Her hands became so crippled up,” said Charles, who explained they thought they were dealing with arthritis. “I couldn’t understand how she could keep on knitting and crocheting like she did with her little hands like they were.”

For six months Mary’s pain steadily increased, with Charles doing all he could to make his wife comfortable, ultimately taking a leave of absence from his job to care for her.

“She just had such a hard time,” Charles said. “She was taking all the pain medication she could take. I would rub her back, put pain patches on her, do everything I could, but she just wasn’t getting any relief. And to see somebody you love so much sit there and cry and beg you for help — it was terrible not to be able to do something. It really hurt.”

In the early part of February a second set of testing was ordered, and before Mary was sent to the hospital Charles helped her to the back room of their home to look at her treasures.

“We started talking about things a little bit after she got sick,” said Charles. “She said, ‘When I get home we’re gonna have a garage sale and get rid of all this stuff. Our kids couldn’t even come and spend the night with us if they wanted to.’ I just said, ‘Honey, what ever you want to do.’ But I didn’t really think she would ever sell those dolls in a garage sale.”

After two days in the hospital, the test results came back diagnosing that Mary had multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow.

“The doctor told us she had probably about two weeks to live,” said Charles. “It just wiped me out. It was just so sudden. I knew she was sick, but I didn’t know she was that sick. We (he and their children) decided not to tell her, but she knew. She was hurting so bad. Somehow, she knew she’d never go home again. And she told me, she just wanted to go to sleep and wake up in heaven.”

The family decided to make Mary as comfortable as possible during her last days, therefore, morphine was given to ease her pain and discomfort. Two days later, at 4 a.m. on Feb. 6, Mary woke up to see her husband sitting awake by her hospital bed, and she wanted to talk.

“She said, “I don’t want you to sell my dolls in a garage sale. I put too much love in them for that,’” recalled Charles with tears in his eyes. “She told me she wanted me to give them to the church or find an orphans home where they would be loved. I couldn’t believe that in the state she was in, she was thinking about those dolls and what she wanted done with them. She was something else. And I don’t say that just because she was mine. But she was one of the sweetest people that ever lived — always doing and wanting to help others.”

Just hours later, at 10:45 a.m. Mary Helen Charles, 75, died in Hopkins County Memorial Hospital.

After a period of mourning, Charles contacted their church of 45 years and asked associate pastor Fred Lewis if he knew of a need for Mary’s dolls, and in “God’s perfect timing,” Bruce Welch, minister of education for First Baptist Church, was finalizing plans for the church’s fourth mission trip to Mexico where 20 members, ranging in ages from 13 to 82, will be erecting the walls of a building that will serve as an orphanage for children in the town of Coahuila.

“We give toys of some kind to the children every year,” explained Welch, who said he was thrilled to be taking such special handmade gifts this year. “I think it is just wonderful, and I love having the opportunity to further Mary’s work by blessing the kids in Mexico with her dolls.”

According to Charles, Welch told him that colored blocks were given last year, and the children were just thrilled with them, acting as if they had never had anything so wonderful in their lives.

“So how much more precious will it be for them to get a doll that was made with so much love and care,” he said.

In addition to toys, church members will also be distributing 400 Bibles to people throughout the community. And Charles came across a box of more than 200 delicately crocheted bookmarkers, many in the shape of a cross, which he has donated to go along with the Bibles.

“It’s just going to be really neat to see Mary’s love continue like this, even after she has passed away,” said Welch, who will be leaving with the missionary group this Sunday, June 19.

Welch said there is still a need for donations to help the little boys of Coahuila. Anyone who would like to help fill this need can call Bruce Welch at 903-885-0647.

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