Teddy bear collector Chuck Warner describes his first teddy bear the way another Generation X-er might retell the story of their first concert.
“There’s a teddy bear called Teddy Ruxpin, which had a cassette tape. You would plug in the cassette tape, and it came with a story book – it had about 20 different books – and the bear read the story,” Warner recalled.
Although Warner was born and raised in Arizona, he spent 25 years in Dallas, where in the mid-80s, he cultivated what would be a lifelong attachment to the plush animal.
Warner joined a non-profit called Bear Patrol, where his arctophile (a person who collects or is very fond of teddy bears) habits came into full force. The organization’s slogan was “share the magic of the teddy bear.”
“They raised funds to buy bears from different teddy bear companies and would give them to children’s hospitals, shelters for kids and their mothers; that’s what really got me started,” Warner said.
Several teddy bear artists, who gifted Warner their creations, staffed Bear Patrol over the years. When the organization ended, it left Warner with a growing collection of stuffed animals and no one to share them with.
After the non-profit, Warner’s attachment was stronger than ever. He stayed in Dallas for five more years collecting bears and working on displays until he moved back to Phoenix 18 years ago.
Warner eventually had to add storage units to his backyard to hold all the teddy bears he had collected.
In 2001, Warner and his wife started setting up holiday displays at churches around Phoenix. When the last church he displayed at sold in 2012, his bear collection went back into hiding.
Then, a former church patron, who was also the principal at Phoenix Christian, reached out to Warner with an invitation that would give his passion a new home.
Warner has been decorating the gymnasium at the Phoenix Christian School every holiday season since 2014.
Warner’s collection has since upgraded to five storage units in his backyard to hold the entire 2,000 bear stock he uses for the display. This is in addition to the 100 plus handmade bears in his personal collection that he keeps at home.
“If you like teddy bears, you’ll totally be taken aback by this display,” Warner said.
The official name of Warner’s holiday exhibit is A Magical Teddy Bear Christmas Display.
“We decorate four Christmas trees that have over 1,000 ornaments, the whole thing, it’s all teddy bears,” Warner said.
The display includes a 50-count teddy bear choir, 30 teddy bear nutcrackers, over 250 teddy bear stockings and holders and “100 small and large animated teddy bears with most of them playing Christmas music.”
“There’s just something magical about teddy bears,” Warner said. He still has one of the first Teddy Ruxpins he ever got.
A Magical Teddy Bear Christmas Display is a free event, but donations are accepted.
The display will be open from December 20 until January 2. Hours and days vary; located at Phoenix Christian K-8, 2425 N. 26th St. For more: phoenixchristianschool.org.