SYCAMORE – Lee Newtson of Sycamore has built dollhouses since 1969, when he gifted his first creation to his youngest daughter.
Now he’s putting his decades of experience to a good cause. He soon will auction off his latest creation, dollhouse No. 69, with proceeds benefiting an organization out of Washington, D.C., called GlobalGiving Foundation to support those in need in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion now a month in. Newtson said he chose the foundation because it’s vetted by the Better Business Bureau.
People are invited to send in donations directly to Newtson, and he’ll compile tickets with names and phone numbers on them, which will be put in a container and the name he draws wins the dollhouse. He’s been collecting raffle drawing donations for about two weeks, and the pot is nearing $500.
“I really feel sorry for those people over there,” Newtson said, speaking of Russia’s war on Ukraine. “But by God, they got the courage. And then there’s [Russian President Vladimir] Putin coming in with all his tanks and all that stuff and they’re pushing them back. He figured they were going to roll over and play dead.”
A U.S. Army veteran, Newtson, 79, said his work overseas in the military on several classified missions fueled his desire to want to help Ukrainians.
“It’s just a way of giving back,” Newtson said. “We’re all in this together and whatever we can do to help each other.”
Newtson has been building dollhouses for charity for seven years, he said, after someone from Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago approached him about the work. The organization pays for materials, he donates labor, and the houses are raffled off for a good cause.
More than 50 years ago, the idea came to him as he read a magazine and saw a dollhouse blueprint. “Well I can do that,” he recalled thinking to himself.
“And I drew it up. I didn’t like where the stairway was, so I moved that. ... And then from there it just went on,” Newtson said.
Among other dollhouses in Newtson’s portfolio include one-story ones, multiple-story ones, barns, castles, log cabins, Victorian houses and ones with electrical fixtures. He also recalled a time he created a dollhouse out of whiskey crates from Ireland and how he put electrical fixtures in the dollhouse retroactively with that project.
“And that’s one thing I like about doing them, too,” Newtson said. “They’re a challenge.”
Newtson said it takes about 100 hours to finish building a dollhouse, 200 hours if he adds electrical fixtures.
“Once in a while there’s a day I don’t touch it”, Newtson said with a laugh. “But for the most part it’s therapy for me. I enjoy doing it.”
Newtson’s dollhouses have been shipped all over, including Colorado and even the White House in 2009 with the help of then-Illinois State Rep. Bob Pritchard and Congressman Bill Foster, he said.
”You can’t give it to the first family because it’s worth more than a dollar volume they can accept,” Newtson said. “But if you give it to the White House, it stays there forever. So we got a dollhouse in the White House.”
Newtson said his charity dollhouses over the years have raised thousands, including the first charity one that raised $15,000 for the children’s hospital selling tickets for a dollar, or six for $5.
Newtson said materials can get expensive to build a dollhouse, although he usually doesn’t do it to turn a profit.
“I don’t really do it as a business as much as I do a hobby,” Newtson said.
Want to help?
To send a donation, address an envelope with the funds to the following address:
Attention: Lee Newtson
2535 Lilac Lane
Sycamore, IL 60178
For information, email Newtson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Please give so they can live,” Newtson said.