Dentistry professor turns childhood love into lifelong hobby

Connie White's iconic collection on display at local museum

Connie White is a treasure hunter. You won't find her, however, scouring old pirate maps of deserted islands or walking along the beach with a metal detector. When she's not training students or treating patients, the UMKC School of Dentistry professor can often be found perusing flea markets, cruising garage sales or surfing e-bay looking for very specific treasures. White is a collector, and the treasures she seeks may not make her rich, but they definitely make her happy.

White collects dolls. She collects dolls from different countries and dolls from different eras, but the doll at the pinnacle of her collection is the one doll that rules them all. The one doll that transcends both time and geographical boundaries: Barbie.

"I've loved Barbie since I was a little girl, but I officially began collecting them in 1989 when my parents brought all my dolls from my childhood home in Perryville to Kansas City on one of their visits," White said. "They had all been kept in storage while I was going to dental school here at UMKC. I remember opening up the doll cases and being absolutely flooded with happy memories."

With a rekindled passion, White began to organize her collection and almost immediately began to explore ways to expand it.

"I have spent the past 20 years seeking out every flea market, antique mall, doll show and estate sale in the Midwest," she said. "I've searched for items in every city I have visited, including several foreign countries. Today, my Barbie collection -- especially pre-1970 era -- is quite extensive."

Barbie turns 50

She's glamorous, hip and successful -- revered by many, reviled by some. At times, Barbie has been both a poster girl for femininity and a lightning rod for feminism. No matter what you think of her, though, at just under 12 inches tall, she is just about as big an icon as American pop culture has ever created. To celebrate her 50th birthday, the Toy & Miniature Museum of Kansas City (located on the UMKC Volker campus) is currently hosting a special exhibit -- "Celebrating 50 Fabulous Years with America's Favorite Doll."

The exhibit, which runs through the end of this year, features hundreds of rare collectible dolls and a vast array of vintage Barbie accessories. In planning the exhibit, museum curators contacted Barbie collectors across the country to ask them to lend some of their items to the Museum. One of the curators, who also happens to be a fellow member of one of the doll collectors' clubs to which White belongs, called and asked her about lending some of her collection for the exhibit. White was more than happy to help. Items in the exhibit at the museum include nearly all of her vintage Barbie and related items from the late 1950s and 1960s.

"The Toy Museum is one of the best kept secrets in Kansas City and I am thrilled to be a part of the exhibit," White said.

And, if the Toy & Miniature Museum ever needs another benefactor for any kind of doll exhibit, they will know where to start.

"I continue to collect dolls of nearly every vintage," White said. "I have Shirley Temple dolls, German toys and dolls from the early 1900s, a large German Steiff collection of Teddy bears and related animals, and wooden Schoenhut dolls and toys from the early 1900s. I love all of it."

If you were beginning to wonder how a practicing dentist, college professor and dedicated toy enthusiast ever finds time for anything else, White is quick to point out that her toy obsession is a family affair.

"My husband is a woodworker and he designs all of my displays and showcases in our home, so we really do work together to enjoy the hobby," she said. "For me, every day is another day to work in a career that I love and maybe even find some time to search for that rare and wonderful find to add to my collection."

Posted: January 29, 2010

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"For me, every day is another day to work in a career that I love and maybe even find some time to search for that rare and wonderful find to add to my collection."

Connie White, D.D.S.
Associate Professor of Dentistry