Eleanor Smith, almost 92, devoted herself to the Hadassah “doll factory” for more than 21 years.
By Barbara Lewis
Featured photo courtesy of Hadassah
After more than 21 years as the chair of Hadassah of Greater Detroit’s Doll Project, Eleanor Smith is retiring.
Smith, who will celebrate her 92nd birthday in June, says she’ll still show up at Hadassah House in West Bloomfield to make the soft, stuffed dolls, which Hadassah gives to hospital pediatrics units. But she’ll no longer take the finished dolls to hospitals, buy the bagels and cream cheese for the volunteers, shlep broken sewing machines to Dearborn for repair or take pattern pieces home with her to sew.
Smith got involved in the Doll Project soon after it started in late 1995. The program really took off under her leadership. “I’ve lived and breathed it for more than 21 years,” she said.
Every Thursday morning, Hadassah House’s front room becomes a doll factory. Volunteers cut out pattern pieces for dolls and gowns, sew them together, and dress and stuff the dolls. Some get added hair or hats. Most don’t have faces, so that children can create them with markers.
Medical personnel use IVs, dressings, splints and casts on the dolls to show children what’s going to happen to them during their medical procedures. Children’s Hospital of Michigan even built a mini-model of an MRI machine that the dolls went through to allay children’s fears, Smith said.
Over the years, the Doll Project has donated almost 80,000 dolls to Detroit-area pediatric units, to Hadassah Hospital in Israel and to a hospital in the Philippines. Some local health care workers also use the dolls to help patients with dementia.
Smith grew up in Detroit and raised her three sons in Oak Park. She and Philip, her husband of nearly 75 years, were founding members of Congregation Beth Shalom and now belong to Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, where they have lived for more than 40 years.
Smith was always interested in and knowledgeable about books though she had no formal library science training. At Congregation Beth Shalom, she set up the library and ran it for many years. Later she was recruited to be the librarian at Hillel Day School, a job she held for 15 years. She retired when she could no longer climb to reach the higher shelves, she said.
When she learned about Hadassah’s Doll Project, she volunteered right away because she’s always liked to sew.
Hadassah President Fran Heicklen says Smith exemplifies the organization’s motto: Women Who Do. “She has worked with a team of talented women to create a lasting impact on our community,” she said. “We are grateful for her passion and commitment. It will be hard to fill her shoes.”
New volunteers are welcome at the Doll Project on Thursdays between 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m at Hadassah House, 5030 Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield. Sewing skills are helpful but not necessary, nor is membership in Hadassah. Volunteers can come as often as they want and stay as long as they like. For details, call Hadassah at (248) 683-5030.