She's not only a tiny person, but Dr. Margaret Haggan's work all year long to fix up toys for children at Christmas makes her a real-life Santa's elf.
Haggan, a physician who is retired from Kansas University's Watkins Memorial Hospital, has restored thousands of dolls over the years for Penn House and the Toys for Tots program.
Thanks to her, 102 dolls will go to children who otherwise wouldn't get one this Christmas. Haggan fixed up the discarded dolls, most of which had dirty and missing fingers, toes and hair, and made each of them two new outfits.
"Magic marker is hard to get off," noted Haggan, holding up one doll that came to her in particularly poor repair, with almost no hair and green marking pen on its face. "But it fades in the sun. I once had a bunch of naked dolls out in the sun."
HAGGAN BEGAN doing toy repairs in 1975, when she noticed a dirty, naked, hairless doll in the bottom of a Toys for Tots collection container.
"People think the poor should like anything we put out there for them," she said. "You can't give a doll like that to a child."
After she talked to some people at the local agencies that help the needy, she discovered that dolls in good shape are rarely donated to Toys for Tots.
"Dolls are expensive," she explained.
The next Christmas, she said, she collected the dolls early, cleaned them up and sewed them clothes. And she's been working just about non-stop ever since. Each February, she begins working on the dolls and she's usually finished up by this time each year.
Not only do the dolls look like new, their clothes are made to last.
"The clothes I make are washable and designed for hard wear, these dolls are meant to be dressed and undressed and played with," she said.
IN MORE recent years, Haggan has taken to fixing up other toys, especially toys that have little people, animals and lots of other parts to them. To replace missing parts, Haggan uses old-fashioned ingenuity. She'll dig through the "grab bags" at the Salvation Army Thrift Store. One toy she's working on is a town scene, complete with a theater, stores and a post office. The floor of the post office is worn, but she discovered that a stamp on a mailer to postal patrons this week about visits from Santa Claus fits perfectly over the worn spot.
Haggan said she sometimes grows tired of the effort, especially at this time of year. But by early next year, she'll be ready to start over again. She noted that in all the years she has fixed up dolls and also sewn school dresses for young Penn House clients, she has yet to see any of her dresses or dolls around town.
"BUT THAT'S not why I do this, to get that out of it. After all, this gives me a chance to play with dolls," she said.
When asked how she gets so much done replacing hair on a badly-worn doll can take eight or ten hours Haggan said "I don't watch much television. I have the radio on and I work steadily."
Haggan also noted that once she cleans up the dolls and repairs them sometimes actually replacing worn limbs the doll clothes are the easy part.
"I have a few quick, easy patterns, that take no more than one hour," she said. "My grandchildren like the doll dresses I make, because I use velcro and they're easy to put on."
Even though she's genuinely concerned that all children in Lawrence have something for Christmas, she doesn't take much of a holiday herself. Her family is far away, so she often substitutes for physicians who work at clinics on Indian reservations in South Dakota over the holidays.
"That's in my spare time," she joked. "No, really, I love the Sioux. They're a very matriarchal society and they seem to enjoy little, gray-haired old women."