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An absolute doll

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | October 10, 2022 1:25 AM

MOSES LAKE — Delphie Bifano was always busy, always working on a project, always adding to her collections and always on the go.

“She just couldn’t sit still,” said her daughter Beth Smith.

Bifano, who died in May 2021, was a nurse as well as a ranch wife and mother of eight and spent many years working at Brookdale Hearthstone Moses Lake.

“She loved it up here,” her daughter Sylvia Carlson said. “She loved it. She was involved; she’d come to do activities. She’d bring her dolls. She had this ‘Mother’s Love’ series, and I remember, she’d bring it up and display it for Mother’s Day. At Christmas, she’d bring up some of her Santas.”

“She loved to share her dolls,” Smith said.

Her career at Brookdale Hearthstone and her love of dolls resulted in a gift to the extended care facility after her death. Some of her dolls are on display in the Brookdale dining room, and more will be on display soon.

Brookdale resident Bonnie Kahananui – known as Miss Bon Bon – worked on the display case, and showed it to members of Bianfo’s family for the first time Oct. 4.

“How do you like it?” she asked.

“I love it,” Smith said as she looked at the display case.

Bifano’s dolls were important to her – probably her biggest collection. They were a big deal for a girl who had grown up in the 1930s when times were hard and there wasn’t a lot of money for toys.

“She had a corncob doll, and she had to share it with her sisters,” Carlson said.

When she had some money to spare she started collecting dolls. That was sometime in the mid-1970s, her daughters said, and from that time on she collected all kinds of dolls.

She started with Barbie and moved on to baby dolls, porcelain dolls with elaborate costumes, cloth dolls, baby dolls miniatures. She found dolls at thrift stores and yard sales, found others through advertisements and online, and eventually started making her own. One of her first projects was made from clay that included ash from the eruption of Mount St. Helens, Smith said.

Family members said Bifano was generous. She gave dolls away, and if somebody admired one of them, she put that person’s name on it, so it would be accounted for when the time came to distribute the collection.

Her daughters said generosity was part of a way of life for Bifano and her husband Tony. There was the time, back in Colorado, when visitors came to the family ranch to stay for a few days. Only after they left did Tony and Delphie discover that each thought the visitors were relatives from the other’s family, and neither actually knew the visitors. They welcomed them anyway.

“It was like, if you even looked like you needed something, they would try their best to give it to you,” Carlson said.

Making dolls was only one of Bifano’s projects.

“She was very artistic,” Smith said. “She did cakes, she did quilts. She was always busy.”

The projects were only part of a busy life. The family moved to Moses Lake in 1967, seeking a better climate for Tony Bifano’s health.

“She drove out here in a Rambler with a U-Haul,” Smith said.

Delphie Bifano fulfilled a longtime ambition when she graduated from the nursing program at Big Bend Community College in 1971. She went on to work at Brookdale Hearthstone, among other places. She retired once, but it didn’t last.

“She got tired of not having anything to do,” Smith said.

She was known for occasionally walking to work at Brookdale Hearthstone – from her home near the Grant County Fairgrounds.

She returned to nursing at an extended care facility, and did some in-home care when she retired from that.

“A go-getter, constantly,” Carlson said.

When she died and her family began looking at her collections, it became clear there were more dolls than her family could absorb. Some were sold, others were donated, but some still remained. Smith said she thought of where her mom used to work and how she liked to share them with the residents. She called Brookdale Hearthstone director Joe Ketterer, who said he was happy to accept the donation.

Some of Bifano’s dolls are now on display in the Brookdale Hearthstone dining room. Tatiana Hernandez, a Brookdale Hearthstone employee, and Miss Bon Bon organized the display.

“We’ve organized them, we’ve gone through them,” Hernandez said. “They are so beautiful and so detailed.

“My favorite ones are the dolls from Monday to Sunday,” she said.

Miss Bon Bon said that Santa and his sleigh are her favorites, although she’s also fond of the little girl in the red-striped dress and bonnet. She designed the display, from the old couple on the top shelf to the cat curled up on the bottom shelf.

One of Bifano’s granddaughters, who preferred not to be named, said she was pleased the dolls found a good home.

“It feels good that they’re here,” she said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.

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COURTESY PHOTO/THE BIFANO FAMILY

Delphi Bifano was a dedicated nurse and avid doll collector. When she passed away her family donated many of her dolls to Brookdale Hearthstone Moses Lake, one of her former workplaces.

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CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Bonnie Kahananui, Miss Bon Bon, with one of the dolls donated by the family of a former nurse at Brookdale Hearthstone Moses Lake. Delphi Bifano was a dedicated doll collector.