20 years, dolls galore

Betty Rector's home is every little girl's dream.

From pink-cheeked baby dolls and fashion-forward Barbies to delicate fairies and iconic pop-culture dolls, Rector's house is a veritable doll paradise.

Rector, 75, of Hickory, is the president of the Catawba Valley Doll Club, and she has been a doll collector for about five decades.

Rector and her friend, Joan Ashton, 78, started buying dolls for their daughters more than 50 years ago, and what started as gifts for their children turned into a treasured hobby for themselves.

The Catawba Valley Doll Club will celebrate its 20th anniversary Saturday with a doll show and sale at the Brookford Community Center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Club members will bring their dolls to sell, and admission is free.

The club now has about 13 members from across the Unifour. They gather monthly to share their new purchases, discuss different types of dolls and make different doll-related crafts.

"Christmas season just brings out the kid in you," Rector said. "You just want a doll."

Rector and Ashton helped start the club in 1990, when they placed a notice in area newspapers asking interested doll-lovers to meet in the basement of an area bank.

Rector sold dolls at an area store, and she noticed how many people were interested in purchasing the dolls to collect and enjoy.

"So many people collected dolls," she said. "They did it not only for their children and grandchildren, but for themselves."

About 40 people attended the doll club's first meeting, and one year later, the club had its first doll show.

"We're like kids," Rector said, laughing. "We have show-and-tell at our meetings."

Club members bring their dolls to display for the public, and the club's proceeds are donated to area charities, including surrounding counties' Hospice organizations and the Women's Resource Center.

Rector said the club enjoys being able to translate its love of dolls into a gift for charitable organizations.

"It keeps you young," Ashton said. "It's just so much fun."

Rector and Ashton walked around Rector's home looking at her doll collection. They greeted each doll like an old friend, commenting on the detail of each doll's clothing, the sparkle in their eyes and their uniqueness.

If there's one thing Rector and Ashton learned during their years as doll collectors, it's that there's only one rule when it comes to buying a doll.

"If you don't like it, don't buy it," Rector said, adding there's no requirements about the size, shape, maker or age of dolls in her collection. "If I buy a doll, nine times out of 10, I keep it."

During the years, the club developed into more than a place to share and celebrate a love for dolls.

"It's like a family," Rector said. "If one has a problem, we all have a problem."

Every one is welcome in the Catawba Valley Doll Club. Members pay $25 a year in dues, which helps pay for the club's semi-annual dinners.

One problem the club doesn't have -- a shortage of dolls. Club members' collections number in the thousands.

But for Rector, the dolls don't simply stay locked in cases. Rector's great-grandchildren enjoy looking at her collection, and she said they are very gentle with the dolls.

Ultimately, she said, the collection is meant to be enjoyed.

For more information about the Catawba Valley Doll Club, contact Rector at (828) 495-8870 or Ashton at (828) 324-7237.