What started as a simple gift exchange between friends, each going through a loss, has morphed into a Care Bear collection that’s taken over a whole room in Mary Juarez’s Edgerton home.

“I have no idea how many there are. But it fills up this room,” Juarez said with a big smile, standing in the middle of an upstairs bedroom filled top to bottom with what she estimates are at least 200 colorful Care Bears of every size — along with every type of Care Bear memorabilia imaginable.

The collection includes all 10 of the original circa-1983-84 Care Bears — Bedtime Bear, Birthday Bear, Cheer Bear, Friend Bear, Funshine Bear, Good Luck Bear, Grumpy Bear, Love-a-Lot Bear, Tenderheart Bear and Wish Bear — as well as many of the Care Bear Cousins, and dozens of cloth, cotton, fleece, ceramic and rubber Care Bear replicas in a variety of colors and sizes.

For memorabilia she has Care Bear images on books, games, clothing, glasses, cups, plates, posters, a beach ball, lunch boxes, a suitcase, tricycle, clock, lamp, water globe, inline skates, Christmas ornaments, cake pans, a nightlight, toothbrush holder and wind chimes.

She even has a Care Bear high chair that was a gift from a friend, and a Care Bears gummy bears display rack that husband Victor bought her as a surprise.

“There were all these gummy bears in little packages. Victor said he wanted to buy it and (the salesperson) said, ‘I’m selling the packages individually, how many do you want?’ And he said, ‘I want the whole display.’

“I don’t know how much it cost. When he brought it home, I was so excited, I about cried,” she said, laughing.

The collection includes Swift Heart Rabbit, a Care Bear “cousin,” and “the first one I ever got,” said Juarez, explaining that around 1986, an ex-sister-in-law was dating a man who fell ill and passed away.

“I sent her a Cheer Bear to try to cheer her up,” she said, noting that it must have made a positive impression because, ironically, about two years later, Juarez was in a similar situation. A man she was dating also passed away and the ex-sister-in-law sent her another Care Bear cousin — Swift Heart Rabbit.

“And now I’m running out of room,” she said of her three-decade-long obsession.

$2 BILLION

Originally created in 1981, the Care Bears initially were greeting card characters developed by a division of American Greetings. Over 40 million Care Bears were sold between 1983 and 1987, and sales of their merchandise reached over $2 billion during the 1980s, making them one of the most successful toy lines of its time, next to “My Little Pony” and “Transformers,” according to a history of Care Bears on www.carebeartoys.com.

At the end of the 1980s, the Care Bears’ popularity was fading and two attempts to revive them in the 1990s both failed. Relaunches in 2002 and 2007, to celebrate their 20th and 25th anniversaries, kept the line alive, and in 2016, the Care Bears made The National Toy Hall of Fame.

Juarez said she loved the Care Bears’ message, carried in their movies, TV shows and their books. She said she read the books, along with the Bible, at bedtime to her two children, Ian and Marjoe, when they were very small. She said Ian and Marjoe slept in a Care Bear bassinet.

“There was always a positive message in those (Care Bear) books and in their movies and (TV) shows. That’s really what attracted me to them,” she said.

Then her eyes tear up as she remembers that the Care Bear book, “The Trouble with Timothy,” was a particular favorite of her’s and Marjoe’s when he was a child.

Marjoe Gineman was 31 when he passed away in April 2010 from a drug overdose. Juarez — a devout Catholic and lifetime member of Edgerton’s St. Mary Catholic Church — then founded the faith-based non-profit Never Let Go Ministries to promote drug awareness and provide support for youth, parents and families dealing with addiction.

The ministry was officially incorporated in 2014 and today is housed in a 2,000-square-foot office at 124 S. Michigan St., in downtown Edgerton.

MEMORIES

Juarez married Victor in 1996 and they moved into their house on South Michigan Avenue, in Edgerton, in 1997. But now they have their house for sale and they’re planning on moving.

Both she and Victor are in their 60s and the thought is to downsize.

“It’s a huge house on a huge lot. I don’t want to move. There’s a lot of memories here. My heart is in this house,” she says, a bit wistfully. “But it’s too big for us,” Juarez said of the two-story house on a large corner lot.

Juarez said a move and potentially downsizing leaves the fate of the Care Bear collection up in the air.

“I’d like to keep it all. If I can keep all of this together, I will. Right now, I have no idea where we’ll go. I’m trying to have faith that God has a plan for us,” she said, smiling. “Time will tell.”

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