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Bears, frogs and pigs, oh my

Almost a year ago to the day, Michael and Kiss Tow stood in front of stacks of plastic bins filled with more than 700 brand-new stuffed toys. After donating the cute creatures to the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Port Angeles and Sequim police and fire departments, the Tows looked at one another and said, "We're done."

That wasn't to be, since the couple

last week loaded up their car with 16 more bins and 792 stuffed bears, frogs, pigs, rabbits, monkeys and just about every other kind of animal, and took them to Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

Again, they say, "We're done."

The two simply can't resist buying those lovable stuffed creations available in just about every store in America.

"We started collecting in 1999," Kiss said, looking at Michael for verification.

He nods in agreement but then says, "We're trying not to collect anymore."

It gets more interesting.

Not only do the Tows buy and collect all these huggable toys, they tend to name each and every one. Most of us have trouble coming up with a name for our child or pet, but the Tows find it fun.

There's Lefty and Righty, for the left and right in the political sense, Valentino and Valentine, a set of red and white Teddy bears, Princess, named for Princess Di and the list goes on.

"Yes," Kiss laughed, "people do probably think we are crazy."

But that craziness translates to happy children, many of whom are ill or otherwise would go without a toy at Christmas.

Michael, 61, and Kiss, 55, moved to Sequim from Walla Walla nearly two years ago. After they retired, he as a millwright from Boise Cascade and she as a correctional officer from the Walla Walla State Penitentiary, they sought out an area that wasn't as hot and cold as are the temperatures in eastern Washington and discovered Sequim.

They are also fishing nuts, as they call themselves, and the fishing doesn't get much better than the North Olympic Peninsula. Instead of concentrating on collecting stuffed animals, the Tows are signed up for classes on how to construct fly-fishing rods and after they master that art, they will learn to tie their own flies.

"Retirement is good," they both say. "It is so great to live here."

Their blended families include 10 children and 24 grandchildren. Their first great-grandchild will be born in January.

None of their children live nearby, so the Tows always have plenty of places to visit - and find one more stuffed bunny or bear.

Last year, they decided it was time to give away their extensive collection. Kiss admitted it was a bit difficult but she knew how much the children would enjoy the toys.

Of course, throughout the year, more toys found their way into the Tows' house and after working with the Sequim Children's Hospital guild, Kiss and Michael decided to donate the toys to the hospital.

Late last week the count was 541 stuffed toys, but over the weekend, Michael said "we went crazy," and they decided to give away their entire collection. The number of toys bumped up to 792.

"We feel good about it," Kiss said.

And next year?

"We're done," Michael reiterated.

But then Kiss remembered a recent shopping trip and "yes, we were out looking at stuffed dogs."

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