Even more than a month on from her death, Dianna Effner's impact on the community and world is still felt in Moniteau County.
Dianna Effner, 75, passed away Oct. 14 after a battle with cancer. Though she will be remembered for her skilled work with dolls, others will remember her by her laugh, her love of music, of gardening, the taste of her cooking, her warm personality and the way she encouraged everyone to tap into their creative side.
Effner was born July 10, 1945, in Ogden, Utah, but she grew up around the Chicago area and then attended Bradley University in Peoria. She married her husband, Randall Effner, who grew up in Peoria, on Sept. 24, 1971. They had three children: Lela, Sara and Ivan. They stayed in Peoria until 1980, and decided to move to Missouri to follow their dream of having a garden and a simpler way of life.
Both Dianna and Randall took an interest in macrobiotic diets, meaning they liked to eat rather healthy and organic foods. In fact, it was one of the main reasons they decided to move to nearby Jamestown; they had friends who also followed a similar diet and way of life.
Before leaving Peoria, Effner tapped into her now-famous artistic skills by making bread dough ornaments to make some extra cash during the holiday season. She and her husband would take the ornaments to several different craft shows. They did so well at selling them that they decided to make it into a full-time business from home. Her husband would shape the ornaments while she did the majority of the painting. After moving to Jamestown, they kept the ornament business going, but it wasn't too long after that a few artists saw Effner's skills and encouraged her to take a step into the doll world, and she did. Her first small-scale business was called Wildflowers.
Once her business started to pick up, Effner and her husband wanted to focus more of his time following his passion in music, so she recruited the help of co-worker and soon-to-be friend Geri Uribe. Uribe started working for Effner in 1989 at her house, where she learned everything from creating molds to painting realistic eyes to sewing costumes.
"She said one time I was the closest thing to a clone she ever had," Uribe said. "Over the years, people started getting us confused. I think we started looking alike after a while."
Eventually, Effner's reputation as a doll artist would be world-renowned. She owned Expressions Inc. and Dianna Effner's Porcelain Dolls, with her doll business located in her building, the historic Jamestown Mercantile.
A lot of Effner's dolls were inspired by those around her. She made dolls that looked like her first four grandchildren, some that looked like the children from the farm and sometimes, she would pull from photos she saw or was given.
"My dad jokingly said 'They're starting to look the same, maybe you should get some new models,'" Lela said.
She made thousands upon thousands of dolls between her molds for Ashton Drake, her one-of-a-kinds, her Little Darling dolls and many more; there were so many, it was hard for anyone to keep count.
But when it came to her dolls and her talents, Effner was always looking to share and educate others. She held several seminars to pass her skills onto those who wanted to learn. She would even come up with different projects and performances for either her children or those in the community to help them tap into their creative sides. She was always encouraging everyone to do what they loved. Growing up, her daughter, Sara, did dance and Effner would drive her to Jefferson City for lessons. Her other daughter, Lela, loved ponies and Effner made the hobby possible for her.
"I think that whole year, she (Lela) did nothing but take care of her pony and mom thought that that was educational for her," Sara said. "And it turns out, she's really good at raising children now."
Effner has 12 grandchildren — 10 being Lela's — and five great-grandchildren who she loved and supported very much, just like she did her own children. She was always there for all of them, Lela said, no matter how busy she was, and she always insisted on cooking all the food for any event or party that they or she was throwing.
"She would have a Christmas party every year and invite her friends," Lela said. "And the tables at the Mercantile would be full. She was just very into serving the community and her friends and family. The same with Thanksgiving, we would have family down from Chicago and we would all gather there."
Speaking of her cooking, Effner loved to garden. She took to a style of gardening that involved sustainability, raised beds and permaculture. Another co-worker, and eventually great friend of hers, Wendi Langreder, loved helping Effner in her garden. There were times they'd be out there and Effner would immediately find a four-leaf clover while Langreder would look for hours. This past summer, Effner found one and kept it for Langreder. The two of them enjoyed the same types of food, so working in the garden together came naturally to them as well as spending time together in the kitchen, Langreder said.
"We made fermented vegetables together, our beliefs were pretty much the same, we ate pretty much the same," Langreder said. "And after she had passed away, I was cleaning in the kitchen and I happened to look up in one of the cookbooks that we always used and there were paper towels with the four-leaf clover in it she saved for me."
Langreder started off cleaning at the Mercantile for Effner but eventually took on a business position taking care of inventory and the studio's website. Effner had Langreder give dolls a try, and she started off doing manicures and pedicures. She tried learning the realistic eyes but she couldn't get the eyebrows just right. They agreed to put the lesson on pause but, unfortunately, Effner's son, Ivan, passed away and life got a little hard and a little busy, and they never got to finish. Though life happened, the two were very close to the end, Langreder said.
Effner was creative since she was a child. Growing up, she would put on plays and come up with songs, and she happened to carry that creativity over not only into her business but her adulthood as well. She was a part of The Heart of Missouri Sweet Adelines Barbershop Chrous and sang tenor in the Vivid Image quartet.
"When we first started working up at the Mercantile, she had a studio upstairs and I worked in the office below her," Uribe said. "And I could hear her all of a sudden start singing and then she would come down the hallway tap dancing and singing away; she had a beautiful voice. It was just so cute. She was just this little thing and had such a big personality."
Effner woke up early every day, and she always had new ideas and big plans she wanted to do. And even though she was so famous for her dolls, their painted faces and the realistic eyes, she was so unbelievably humble, Uribe said.
Dianna Effner was just like her dolls: one of a kind.
"She led an unconventional life that I believe she would say ended up teaching her the importance of traditional moral values," Sara said. "She would often try to share these lessons with me and though I would sometimes not let on that I was listening, I was and will always cherish what she did for me and many others."
Effner's memorial service will be held Sunday, Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. at the Community Building in Jamestown. There will be an open house at the Mercantile to view her work following the service.