HILL CITY, S.D. —
As a child growing up in foster care in Minnesota, Jackie Miley never had the quintessential childhood toy: the teddy bear.
The 63-year-old resident of Hill City, S.D., has made up for that — and then some. With 7,790 different teddy bears, Miley holds the Guinness World Record for largest teddy bear collection.
Her collection resides in a small home along Main Street in Hill City, a town of fewer than 800 people in western South Dakota's Black Hills. Teddy Bear Town is filled to the brim with every bear imaginable — Beanie Babies, the talking Teddy Ruxpin and porcelain bears. Visitors can admire the collection and buy souvenirs at a teddy bear-themed gift shop.
"I'm referring to it as a house of memories. I've got people's very first bears. I've got bears in memories of people who passed away ... It brings back childhood memories to a lot of them," Miley said of the visitors.
Miley's path to teddy bear fame wasn't planned. She arrived in Hill City more than a decade ago to work as a live-in desk clerk at a Super 8 hotel with her first and only teddy bear, Grandma Jackie, a bear she had made at a Build-A-Bear store two years prior.
Her collection slowly grew as she traveled to thrift stores in Rapid City and bought the bears that stood out to her.
"One day someone pointed out to me, 'Do you know you have more bears than people we have here in town?' " she said.
Turns out, that wasn't quite true: According to the Chamber of Commerce, her collection didn't yet match the 780 residents in Hill City.
So, she set a goal. A few months later, she had more than 1,000 teddy bears, then 2,000 and then 3,000.