SYCOMORE – Sycamore’s Lee Newtson has been building dollhouses since 1969, when he gave his first creation to his youngest daughter.
Today, he puts his decades of experience at the service of a good cause. He will soon be auctioning off his latest creation, Dollhouse No. 69, with proceeds going to benefit a Washington, D.C. organization called GlobalGiving Foundation to support those in need in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion since a month. Newtson said he chose the foundation. because it is approved by the Better Business Bureau.
People are invited to send donations directly to Newtson, and he will 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 donations for about two weeks, and the pot is approaching $500.
“I really feel sorry for those people over there,” Newtson said, speaking of Russia’s war on Ukraine. “But by God, they had the courage. And then there is [Russian President Vladimir] Putin comes in with all his tanks and stuff and they push them back. He thought they were going to turn around and play dead.
US Army veteran Newtson, 79, said his work overseas in the military on several classified missions fueled his desire to help Ukrainians.
“It’s just a way of giving back,” Newtson said. “We’re all in this together and anything 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 in Chicago approached him about the job. The organization pays for the materials, it donates the labor and the houses are raffled off for a good cause.
More than 50 years ago, the idea came to him while reading a magazine and seeing a plan for a dollhouse. “Well, I can do it,” he recalled thinking to himself.
“And I drew it. I didn’t like where the staircase was, so I moved it. … And then from there it just went on,” Newtson said.
Other dollhouses in Newtson’s portfolio include single-story, multi-story, barns, castles, log cabins, Victorian homes, and those with electrical appliances. He also recalled a time when he created a dollhouse out of whiskey crates from Ireland and how he put electrical appliances in the dollhouse retroactively with that project.
“And that’s one thing I love about their practice, too,” Newtson said. “They are a challenge.”
Newtson said it takes about 100 hours to complete building a dollhouse, 200 hours if he adds electrical appliances.
“Every once in a while there’s a day where I don’t touch it,” Newtson said with a laugh. “But for the most part, it’s therapy for me. I like doing it.
Newtson’s dollhouses have been shipped everywhere, including to Colorado and even to the White House in 2009 with the help of Illinois State Rep. Bob Pritchard and Congressman Bill Foster, a he declared.
“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 will stay there forever. So we had a dollhouse at the White House.
Newtson said her charity dollhouses over the years have raised thousands of dollars, including the first charity which raised $15,000 for Children’s Hospital by selling tickets for one dollar, or six for 5 dollars.
Newtson said the materials can be expensive to build a dollhouse, though he usually doesn’t do it for a profit.
“I don’t really do it as a business as much as a hobby,” Newtson said.
Want to help?
To send a donation, send an envelope with the funds to the following address:
Attention: Lee Newtson
2535 lilac alley
Sycamore, IL 60178
For more information, email Newtson at email@example.com.
“Please give so they can live,” Newtson said.