Residents who passed by Barbara Bettler’s house in the past few months probably would have done a double take.
They might have seen a dummy dressed as a monkey with a sign that read “Don’t monkey around with COVID-19,” or dressed as a bear with a sign that read “Can’t bear any more tuna.”
“Someone thought it was my mom sitting in the driveway and waved when they walked by,” Bettler said.
It was not a person sitting in Bettler’s driveway, but a hand-made dummy. For 100 days, from mid-March until the end of June, Bettler dressed the dummy up in 100 different outfits with 100 corresponding messages, with the goal of cheering up her neighbors during a trying time.
“What I wanted to do was, we have walkers in our neighborhood and they’re out walking a lot more because there’s nothing else we could do, so when they went out in the morning I wanted them to think, ‘What else did she do?’” said Bettler, of the Village of Amelia. “The main thing was to inspire people and make light of something when it was getting too serious.”
Bettler made a dummy by stuffing a t-shirt and a pair of pants. On the first day, she hinted at her plan for the next 99 days.
“I started out with just this person with a basic mask,” she said. “I put it out and (the sign) just said, ‘start counting.’”
Most days Bettler chose a humorous theme, often involving COVID-19. She used items she already had lying around the house including a collection of about 150 hats, masks and 20 different wigs, some borrowed from a neighbor down the street.
One day, she adorned the dummy in a bright yellow wig, surrounded by chickens with a sign that read “Let’s get cracking on a COVID-19 vaccine.” Another day set it up with a displaced head and a sign that read, “Don’t lose your head over this virus.”
Bettler spared no details when it came to her presentation.
“Mainly I would just kind of think about it during the day and what the theme was going to be, and sometimes the theme would change because it doesn’t always (get) across what I wanted you to get out of it,” she said.
Oftentimes she set up the display just to take it down and start anew.
She faced other challenges, like wrestling with the dummy to change its clothes.
“The other thing that was challenging was for a week or so when we had rain we put it in the garage and put a backdrop behind it,” Bettler said. “And if it was kind of windy I had to go and put it back together several times.”
Sometimes she would have themes for a few days at a time, like countries and musicals.
On the final day, she layed out all of the hats, wigs, and props she had used for 100 days and arranged all of the signs she had used into a pinwheel design.
Bettler also did one final presentation for the Fourth of July involving a blue curly wig, a patriotic hat and American flags.
The project was a distraction not only for her neighbors, but also herself.
“It gives you something to work on every day,” Bettler said.
When she worked out in her yard in the morning, she got the chance to see the reaction from her neighbors.
“They were just really impressed,” Bettler said. “They said, ‘how do you come up with all of these ideas, where do you keep all this stuff?’”
Bettler got feedback from friends and neighbors overseas when word of the project reached Germany, Ireland and Mexico. She said several people from other neighborhoods heard about the project and changed their walking routes so they could see her daily presentations.
Several neighbors also sent her letters to thank her for her effort, and she continues to get thank-you notes from neighbors even after she stopped.