Dress Form Mannequin Greets Drivers, Honors Homeowner’s Late Wife

By Bethaney Phillips

Driving west on Crawford Street, you’ll see a familiar resident. Leaving the 15/24 Short Stop in Clay Center, looking north, she waits for your wave. Dressed for both the holiday and season, Sadie Hawkins stands at 521 Crawford for passersby to enjoy. A dress form with a Styrofoam head, she was placed there by homeowner Jay Mellies in honor of his late wife, Marion.

“Many years ago when the world was young, I was invited to a Sadie Hawkins dance by a young lady. It was our first date and we were together over 60 years,” he said. 

After Marion, or Mernie, passed away five years ago, Mellies said he added the dress form to his highway-facing window, and named her, as a bit of fun. 

“You always have to be positive and have a sense of humor and do some fun things,” he said. “So this has been kind of a fun thing for me to do.” 

The history of Sadie Hawkins, Mellies explained, comes from the comic strip Li’l Abner, which ran from 1934 to 1977. In the strip, a girl of the same name inspired an event wherein unmarried women pursued the town’s bachelors and would become married if they caught them. The sentiment was observed in real life where girls would ask the boys to a dance, including an annual dance in Clay Center.

Now 86 years old, Mellies said he and Mernie attended the November 15, 1955 dance when both were seniors in high school. He at Morganville and she at Clay Center. 

“She was one of the prettiest girls in Clay Center, then and even now,” he said of Mernie. Adding that she was a cheerleader and up for homecoming queen. 

Mellies said he regularly came to Clay Center, in part because there weren’t any girls in his Morganville school. He participated in City Band and otherwise ran with local boys he had befriended. 

In 1960, the pair were married and lived in Topeka, where Mernie worked as a secretary to the State Treasurer. Mellies was commissioned to the US Navy, where he served as a supply officer in San Diego and Fallon, Nevada. From then, Mellies took a job with Hewlett Packard in their financial department, which took them to Colorado and Oregon. He stayed with them until retirement in 1993. And the pair eventually moved back to Kansas. 

As for the idea for Sadie Hawkins, Mellies said it was something he’d seen in his years of travel. 

“I saw various houses with mannequins dressed in upstairs windows. I saw this dress form at an antique shop in Barnes, KS and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll do something like that too,’” he said. “I thought ‘Yeah that’s the ticket’ and wanted to put her in my front window.”

Mellies added that he knows a window mannequin is not everyone’s cup of tea, but that he does it to help spread joy.

“It’s kind of a fun thing. Some people have geese on their front porch and I just have this.” 

Sadie Hawkins gets an outfit change ever week or two, Mellies said, adding that he chooses clothes that follow any upcoming holidays or bases her fashion off the weather. Most are Mernie’s clothes, though he also purchased a few wigs to switch out. 

In early March, Sadie donned green for St. Patrick’s Day, including a green caubeen hat, or Irish beret. Mellies said the hat was gifted to his mother by Wayne Ryan, who purchased it in Ireland. 

“She coerced him into giving her the hat; she always loved the Irish and [St. Patrick’s Day]] was one of her favorite holidays,” Mellies said.

Like his mother, he too loves the holiday. Celebrating each year in Manhattan. 

“I used to run 10Ks, then I did 5Ks, then 2Ks, and now I walk but I’m still walking,” he said. Adding that he has a stash of medals when he won in younger days. 

“Green beer, corned beef and cabbage, there’s just nothing like it.” 

Next, Sadie will get dressed up for Easter, he said. 

“She’ll have to put on her finery,” he said of the holiday. 

Mellies is often asked about the sewing form in his window, and he’s glad to tell people the sentiment behind her.

“I went to this dance with a young lady and We had a great life together, no question about it. So I’ve got to thank Sadie Hawkins for that. She’s the one who got us together.” 

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