Several years ago, Mary Kay Pauley started sewing teddy bears. At first it was just to keep up her lifelong passion for sewing. But when approached to make a bear out of a newborn baby’s crib sheet, the bears took on an entirely new and greater purpose.
Through word of mouth, “Kay’s Bears” has kept Pauley, a facilities coordinator in University Human Resources, very busy in her spare time. The stuffed “memory” bears are made from items such as baby blankets or soft fabric worn by a newborn or a deceased loved one. They are sewn together by Pauley and embroidered with the name and birth date or a special quote of the person they honor.
Because of the uniqueness of each customer’s request, each bear is unique in the material used to create it.
“I’ve created memory bears out of kilts from Scotland, camouflage from favorite hunting gear, a bingo vest, all kinds of clothing,” she says.
The bears take no more than a week for Pauley to sew together in her home. Pauley makes minimal money from the bears, mainly charging for supplies, and doesn’t advertise except for an album of pictures on her Facebook page. She truly cares about the positive impact the bears have on their new owners.
“It is very rewarding to know that my bears give comfort to folks,” she says, knowing that many of her customers have recently lost a loved one.
The bears act as a tangible way for people to preserve memories. Instead of keeping those old clothes in a closet or a bag in the garage, the memory bears put them to use.
One interesting note about Pauley’s bears is that none of them have ever had a face. It’s one of her project’s signatures.
“I just can’t bring myself to do it,” she says. “It would change my bears.”
That being said, because of the personal nature of the memory bears, no two are ever the same.
“They take on their own personalities,” Pauley says. “They all have their own fabric, and they all look different.”
When she isn’t making bears, Pauley is busy at her day job as a human resources facilities coordinator. The UHR department has five locations on campus, constantly requiring various sorts of building-related work, such as remodeling or upgrading. Pauley serves as a liaison between the department and the crew doing the job, making sure everything is lined up.
She works with a wide range of facility issues, from replacing toilets or fencing, to full-scale renovations. She helps to ensure that budgets are adhered to, licenses are secured when necessary, and that regulations and ergonomic requirements are met.
Pauley says that her work is often the result of an assignment that is given to her by her department. However, Pauley’s experience and the trust of her supervisor allow her to seek out areas of need and to initiate her own projects.
“I’ve got quite a bit of autonomy,” she says. “I’m very fortunate.”
Among the projects she has coordinated is the merging and remodeling of the campus children’s centers for children of faculty and staff members and the community
Having working at U-M for almost 22 years, Pauley says she knows almost every employee in Human Resources and that they often will come up to her when she’s at a site, either to just say hello or make a request.
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Mary Kay Pauley, facilities coordinator, University Human Resources, on her “Kay’s Bears” project: “It gives me great pleasure to be able to create something that brings comfort to families.”
“The Birthday Party: Ceramic Sculpture” by Marcia Polenberg, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. through Feb. 4, Gifts of Art Gallery, University Hospital Main Lobby, Floor 1.