- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) - The 13-room, three-story Victorian dollhouse unveiled last month as an inspiration for recovering children at AMITA Health Alexian Brothers Women’s & Children's Hospital in Hoffman Estates is a bit of a miracle.

The dollhouse — commissioned to look like a historic home in New England — was donated to Alexian Brothers even before the Women’s & Children's Hospital opened in 2013.

Mary Lou Mitchell, former owner of the closed Williamsburg-themed Pineapple Shoppe in downtown Arlington Heights, was looking for a new owner for the dollhouse when she sold her home.

The home’s buyer, Dr. Kimberlee Curnyn, an ophthalmologist on staff at both AMITA Health Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village and AMITA Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, was the connection that led to the dollhouse’s delivery to the late Brother Valentino Bianco, the longtime decorator for the medical center in Elk Grove Village.

However, the largely unfinished house came in many different pieces and sat in Bianco’s studio until his death in 2013. That’s when workers discovered the pieces while cleaning out his workspace, officials said.

Enter a pair of volunteers in the Pediatrics Department — Susanne Frey of Crystal Lake and Janice Selden of Lakewood — who had worked together for years as a teacher and teacher’s aide at Woods Creek School in Crystal Lake.

For two years they worked painstakingly to complete the house, slowly moving from room to room. They set aside every Tuesday for the work, they say.

Now positioned in a wooden case and behind protective glass, the dollhouse is all decked out for the holidays. Garland and wreaths hang out front, while inside, the parlor has stockings, packages and even a note to Santa, complete with a plate of cookies.

Adjoining rooms include a music room, complete with multiple instruments, and a teenager’s room, with an iPad and ballet slippers on the floor. There’s also a nursery outfitted with whimsical toys and cherished stuffed animals.

Each room is wired for electricity as well as wallpapered, carpeted and trimmed with drapery treatments. A closer look reveals attention to detail in its custom woodwork, base trim and tile work throughout.

“It’s magical,” Susanne Frey says. “It’s a treasure and an heirloom.”

Since the pair had designed creative projects for their classroom, they initially figured finishing the dollhouse would be an extension of that.

“Neither of us had ever worked in miniatures before, and our advice to any hobbyists would be to start out small. Not with a 13-room house,” said Frey, who taught a fourth and fifth grade multi-age class.

They consulted with Janet Bayer, owner of Lolly’s Dollhouses and Miniatures in Elgin, who helped the pair position different rooms in the house and donated its wiring.

Much of the furniture came with the house, but Frey and Selden also worked with miniature hobbyists to obtain donations of additional pieces.

The former teachers also peppered the rooms with key items from favorite children’s stories, including Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” the pirate ship from “Peter Pan,” and a Paddington Bear stuffed animal.

“We’re thinking of it as an ‘I-Spy’ game, where children will be given a sheet and asked to find certain items,” Frey said.

The dollhouse is in the Family Room of the hospital’s second floor Pediatrics Department.

Katie Hammerberg, coordinator of the Child Life Department at the hospital, hopes to install an interactive kiosk, which children can use to identify pieces found in the home.

“It’s part of functional learning,” Hammerberg says, “and gives children some incentive to get up and out of bed after surgery. We think it will be a real destination.”

“As a hospital, we’re committed to keeping children interested and stimulated,” Mark Frey, CEO of AMITA Health and Alexian Brothers Health System — and Susanne Frey’s husband — said at last week’s ceremony. “Anything we can do to take their minds off why they’re here is great.”


Source: (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald, https://bit.ly/2hPwzSV


Information from: Daily Herald, https://www.dailyherald.com



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