A sign on one of the bedroom doors at the home of Rex and Vernolis Siebert of rural Marion reads, “This place is a zoo. Enter at your own risk.”
On the other side of the door is a roomful of many sizes of stuffed bears and a variety of bear décor.
Vernolis said her collection began at least 40 years ago when Rex bought her a Snuggles bear. Since then, the collection has grown to more than 500. Some were gifts from friends and relatives; others were purchased by the Sieberts themselves.
“I’d see one I loved, and I had to buy it,” she said.
The collection includes a musical, animated cowboy, a limited-edition Disneyland bear, Smokey the Bear, and bears for every holiday. A girl bear and boy bear have their own framed birth certificates. The smallest bear is less than a ½-inch tall.
The bear theme carries over into many other forms, such as a wall hanging, throws, pillows, quilts, and a lamp. Even the light switch has a bear-themed faceplate.
Vernolis’ grandson, Laramie Siebert, a military man, gave her a soldier boy wearing camouflage, which means a lot to her.
Another favorite is a bear-head wall plate fashioned out of wood pieces. A friend created it.
“I cherish that,” she said.
Two singing bears given to her by daughter Linda Campbell of Salina are also special.
“You just don’t see them anywhere,” she said.
The bedroom holding her collection is her favorite room in the house. At 93, she has given a lot of thought to what will happen to her collection after she is gone. She said she has decided to pass it on to the couple’s two little great-grandchildren. Their mother, Laramie’s wife Alea, has an interest in it, and Vernolis is confident she will preserve it for them.
“What they do with the bears after that I won’t know about,” she said, smiling.