ALBERT LEA, Minn. (WCCO) — From Raggedy Ann to Barbie, dolls have been popular gifts under Christmas trees for centuries.

For one woman in Albert Lea, dolls became part of her passion. She was known as The Story Lady, and she spent years entertaining school kids, along with several groups of seniors.

Norma Robson was a retired librarian who owned hundreds of dolls.

“I think, not having married herself, it was sort of her family,” said Pat Mulso, executive director of the Freeborn County Historical Museum.

Robson knew the power of a good story, and she could work her dolls into her stories because she knew them by heart.

“So whether it was the story about the Cat in the Hat or Raggedy Ann or whatever character she brought with her, she actually made the story come to life for the children,” Mulso said.

Over the years, Robson and her dolls captivated not only young audiences, but also adults like 89-year-old Agnes Boss, who helped her form a doll club.

“When I was a little girl, this was my story, I prayed every night — either send me a baby doll or a little baby brother,” said Boss. “I think if you have a mother instinct, you love dolls.”

Robson was battling cancer in 2000, when Boss made a doll in the image of the Story Lady herself, in her Mother Goose outfit with kids holding dolls at her feet.

“She was so happy,” said Boss. “And then she says, ‘Could you leave it here with me?'”

Robson died that weekend. The dolls from her collection went to a non-profit group, which showcased them for 14 years in a downtown Albert Lea storefront.

But then the group couldn’t keep up with the rent, and the Story Lady Doll and Toy Museum closed in 2010. Now, the Freeborn County Historical Museum is in the process of expanding, and it will have a room just for dolls — most of them from the Story Lady.

“People will be able to enjoy them for generations to come,” Mulso said.

Robson made her mark in the story of Albert Lea, and now her own story is ready for the next chapter.

“This will be just wonderful, just wonderful,” said Boss.

The expansion of the museum should be finished by the summer of 2013. In the meantime, some of the Story Lady’s dolls are scattered throughout the current building in display cases.

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