By Heather Abraham

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Keeping memories alive is sometimes hard to do.

Those memories are so important that many will keep mementos, such as a piece of clothing, to remember them by. But, they are often stored away and rarely seen.

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But, one woman is giving memories new life.

“It can’t be seen or hugged or touched. It’s just in a box and it’s just packed away. And the memories are there,” Toni Reese said.

That’s where The Bear Lady comes in. It’s a title Reese embraces, much like the teddy bears she creates.

“I ended up going through 12 different bear patterns before I found three that I loved and made them my own,” Reese said.

Reese is a Burgettstown native, who now lives in Texas. She began sewing when she was a little girl and still has the first piece of embroidery that was a gift for her dad before vacation.

“I snuck it into a suitcase before he left. I think I stayed up until two or three o’clock in the morning and he had no idea I was up,” she said.

While she makes clothes and accessories for a living, a couple years ago, she got an odd request from a woman.

“I told her no. I said it’s out of my skill level. I make clothing, bows, tutus. I’ve never made a bear,” Reese said.

So, it was strange when someone else asked her to make the same thing.

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“Same week, a couple days later, I had a teacher at the school, come and ask if I could make teddy bears out of onesies, newborn baby onesies,” she said.

At that point, the Legacy Bear was born. It is something that can literally be held – again.

“It becomes something. You can live those memories every single day,” she said.

Many come to her with stories that she’ll never forget, like the man who lost his teenage son in a drunk driving accident.

“He started riding motocross with his son when he was 4 years old,” Reese said. “When his son turned 18 years old, he was hit by a drunk driver and that’s when Doug’s life pretty much died as well.”

“He said if there’s ever anything I’m gonna tell parents, I’m not going to tell you how to parent your kids, I’m not going to tell you anything, but I will say to give them a kiss and hug goodbye every day. And I have five kids, and I can’t imagine it.”

While visiting family recently in Burgettstown, Reese presented her own father with a memory.

It was a bear made of hunting gear that belonged to Reese’s grandfather and her dad.

She also made a bear for KDKA-TV’s Heather Abraham. Reese used the outfit Abraham’s baby girl was wearing when they brought her home from the hospital.

For more information about the Legacy Bears, visit Reese’s website here.

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Heather Abraham