Joyce Willard knitting a bear at her regular spot on Friday in front of Gracious Giving.
Joyce Willard knitting a bear at her regular spot on Friday in front of Gracious Giving. FILE

Street is bear without Joyce

WHEN Joyce Willard moved to Stanthorpe in 1982 with her new husband, Les, she certainly found her niche.

The farming venture they moved up here for might not have worked out but the Sydney native soon became a knitting icon in the town.

Every Friday, "rain, hail or shine”, Joyce, along with Les or a friend or two, could be found outside Gracious Giving knitting and selling woollen goods and the bears she made for the Stanthorpe Cancer Fund.

"People reckoned we were mad but we'd rug up,” Les said.

"The bed socks went well then and the knee warmers.”

Unfortunately, Joyce succumbed to the disease herself, passing away in June at the age of 81.

Even in the hospital bed, Joyce kept on knitting and taking orders for knitted goods from the hospital staff.

"They loved it, they didn't have to go far,” Les said.

"They'd say, you know who we've got in here? It's the bear lady.”

Even when she died Joyce was in the middle of a project. She was three-quarters of the way through knitting a dog blanket for somebody whose pet was suffering in the cold early winter.

Then there were blankets for elderly people at Villa Carramar. Every two months Joyce would take seven or eight blankets that she and other knitters had put together up to the home.

Les said one patient asked how much his blanket was and when told the answer replied, "you're kidding, they're free?”

"She really enjoyed giving something to to somebody,” Les said.

"It made her day when they rang up and said they needed blankets.

Joyce was taught to knit by her grandmother when she was six years old and "never stopped”.

The pair were originally from Sydney. They met when they worked for Franklins supermarket: Joyce was a cashier while Les worked at the nearby Bankstown store.

They married in 1982 and moved to Stanthorpe the same year, buying a farm on Pyramids Road at Wyberba.

However, as it grew increasingly difficult to keep up with the demands of the supermarkets, the pair supplied nursing homes with produce "rather than plough in” and quit farming after five years, leaving the land to go to bush.

"Joyce was working at other farms to bring the money in,” Les said.

"But she would knit at night”.

Joyce heard about the Stanthorpe Cancer Fund four years ago and thought, "that would be nice”.

Her knitted teddy bears were so popular they sold out in one day.

"The Japanese loved them,” Les said.

Joyce could knit and fill a bear in two and a half hours and she even offered a same-day service. In the football season, people would ask for St George or Broncos bears and "if she had the wool, she'd do it”.

But there's no one to carry on her bear knitting legacy, and Les finds that sad.

"A lady in Tenterfield did eight and said 'that's it, no more',” he said.