On Lois Glawe's 16th birthday, her mother, Marion, surprised her by gifting her with a new doll.

"I named her Debbie," Lois said, "because that's what I always said I would name my first little girl."

When her mother gave her Debbie, she also informed her that it would be the last doll that she would receive from her, as young Lois would soon be an adult.

Consequently, the doll became a cherished possession. Lois carefully placed Debbie in the hope chest her childhood sweetheart (and future husband) Elwood Orner had given her on her 15th birthday, for safekeeping. And that's where Debbie would stay for many years, only occasionally coming out to play with her owner or to be shown off to friends and relatives.

A teenage Lois (Glawe) Orner, left, with her doll, Debbie, is seen with Lois' sister, Mickey, and the doll their mother gave her when she turned 16. (Submitted photo)
A teenage Lois (Glawe) Orner, left, with her doll, Debbie, is seen with Lois' sister, Mickey, and the doll their mother gave her when she turned 16. (Submitted photo)

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After she married Elwood, at the age of 23, Lois Orner had a daughter whom she also named Debbie — because she really did want that name for her firstborn.

Fast forward to 2019, when Debbie — who had since married Rick Janzen and given Lois two grandchildren — heard her mother say she thought her Debbie doll should have a new dress.

Debbie examined her miniature namesake, and realized that the doll needed more than just a new dress — she needed a complete makeover.

So one day, when Lois wasn't looking, her daughter spirited the doll away and began the process of restoring mini-Debbie to her former glory, with the plan of surprising her mother with the rejuvenated doll as a Christmas present.

"I cleaned her up, head to toe, and found her a new hairpiece, socks and shoes," Janzen said. But the one item that continued to elude her was the only thing her mother had specifically requested — a new dress.

"I went shopping all over, trying to find the perfect dress," Janzen said, but she didn't find anything that caught her eye.

That's when Janzen ran into her friend, Colleen Schmit, while getting gas at the M&H convenience store in Detroit Lakes. Janzen knew Schmit, who retired from her position as an administrative assistant with the Detroit Lakes School District a couple of years ago, was a gifted seamstress and had taken up sewing as a hobby.

"I traded my computer for a sewing machine and a crochet hook," Schmit said. "I've made so many projects for my church, and as gifts ... I just love doing crafts."

As they were both waiting in line to pay for their gas, the two women started talking, and the discussion turned to Janzen's latest project. After they were finished, Janzen took Schmit out to her car to show her the doll, which was lying in the back seat. It was then that she proposed the idea of having Schmit make a new dress for the doll.

Detroit Lakes resident Lois Orner's 65-year-old doll, Debbie, received new hair, socks and shoes along with a custom-made dress from local seamstress Colleen Schmit. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)
Detroit Lakes resident Lois Orner's 65-year-old doll, Debbie, received new hair, socks and shoes along with a custom-made dress from local seamstress Colleen Schmit. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

"I said, 'Yes, let me at it!'" Schmit recalled with a laugh. She immediately started combing through fabric samples and old clothing at thrift and antique stores.

"The dress she (the doll) had on was an unusual style," she explained, "so I wanted to find a vintage fabric that closely matched it. I went to the Boys & Girls Club Thrift Store, where I found a sheer curtain, and I thought, 'That's just what I'm looking for!'"

Schmit fashioned a pattern for the dress, and got to work on sewing it. "I was really enthused about it, so I got it done pretty quickly," she said.

When she saw the finished dress, Janzen was thrilled.

"I was really impressed with the effort Colleen made," she said. "She really put a lot of TLC into it."

Lois, too, was impressed — in fact, she said, she "could scarcely believe it" when she opened the package at the family's Christmas gathering, and saw her old doll looking almost brand new.

"I love her because my mom gave her to me," said Lois, adding that she now tucks her Debbie doll into bed every night, right before she goes to sleep. "I keep her right on the bed."

Lois, who is now 82, has been happily married to Elwood Orner for 61 years; in fact, according to their eldest daughter, "Dad still calls her his 'sweater girl'."

Currently, the Orners and their dog, Missy, live in one side of a twin home in Detroit Lakes, with their daughter and son-in-law living in the other, along with the Janzens' two dogs, four kittens and one bird.