The Angel Lady: A first-person encounter with Billie Stitt

By on December 20, 2017

Billie Stitt’s porch is just the start of her angel collection.

It’s the holiday season, which means the angels are among us, perhaps more than usual. Eileen Elias Freeman, in The Angels’ Little Instruction Book, says, “Angels are all around us, all the time.”

Freeman needs to meet Billie Stitt.

Billie is surrounded by — at last count according to husband Len — more than 3,000 angels of all sizes made from porcelain, glass, wood, fabric, metal and other materials. She loves them all and they give her a quiet sense of comfort and well-being. I get it.

Billie, 88, a 40-year Lititz resident, is a two-time cancer survivor. She is a regular at Horst Auction House in Ephrata on Wednesdays. It’s there that I met her in the fall when I photographed the Horst family for a Record Express feature on auctions and auctioneering. While waiting for the auction to start, I found an open seat next to Billie, who I saw was passing out candies from a big basket to friends near her.

She told me she had been coming to the auction for years and saved seats surrounding her spot in row four, seat three (NASCAR’s Richard Petty’s number, but that’s another story). She knows everyone’s favorite sweet treat, and according to daughter Cindy, who I met a few days later, spends more than you want to know each week filling her candy basket. I am a huge Goldberger Peanut Chew fan, and didn’t Billie have a bag of my dark chocolate favorites right in the center of the basket.

Anyway, I thought maybe the 3,000-angel count was a little exaggerated, so I asked if I could visit her Orchard Road home and see for myself, take some photos, and hear about the collection. I visited a few days later, and Billie wasn’t kidding.

Billie with her husband Len.

The Stitt home might give Heaven a run for its money with angels, especially during the Christmas season. Just about everywhere, starting at the front porch door and continuing to the living room, bathroom and bedrooms, kitchen and beyond, it’s all angels. In every size, shape, color and material, they sit on built-in bookshelves (husband Len did that for Billie a few years back), windowsills, and display cases. They range from palm size to outdoor decoration variety.

After I got over my surprise, I asked Billie about the angel history, how she got started, and if she ever planned to stop? Everyone in the room smiled at that question.

Billie says she can’t actually remember which angel was the first. She knows that after retiring from Walter W. Moyer’s sewing department in Lititz in 1996, she began to go to the auctions at Horst and it became a fun afternoon out.

“I’d buy an angel or a small lot of angels as they came up (for auction),” she said, “and all of a sudden I had a collection.”

Small decorative angels come up in auction lots more than you might suspect, and eventually Horst regulars began to realize Billie was a serious collector and would check with her before the auction started to find out if she planned to bid on angels they had seen during the pre-sale inspection. If Billie said yes, she — most times — becomes the only bidder, and the collection has grown quickly since there have been more than 1,000 Wednesday Horst auctions since 1996, with Billie at most of them.

Billie is the “candy lady” at Horst Auction House every Wednesday afternoon.

Although Billie’s daughters Phyllis and Cindy kind-a roll their eyes when talking about the collection, husband Len gets it.

“She takes great pleasure in the collection,” he smiles, “and it’s the way she wants to spend her money. Why not?”

So, it turns out Billie, a race car fan — thus Richard Petty and his #43 and the fourth row, third seat at Horst every week — collected small race cars for a short period. A big racing fan, she also served for many years as the scorer at Lincoln Speedway in Abbottstown.

Billie went to her first auction with Sister Miriam, and like many, got hooked, and loves going every week. Billie doesn’t always win the auction bid on angels that come up, but she never gives up.

“I lost an angel at a $15 bid a while back,” she recalled, “and wanted it so much I tracked down the winner and asked to buy it. He saw I was serious and a collector and just gave it to me,” she said.

Angels usually come up in lots, not singly, so when Billie buys she usually comes home with a few. They may be stand-alone or part of a lamp or bowl or something else. I asked if she ever came home with the motherlode, and she really smiled. She remembers several ago at Horst, early in her collecting phase, she came home with 67 angels at one time. I also asked about her favorite, and as I expected, she could not identify just one.

“I’m a little picky now,” smiled Billie, “as I have to find a home for every new addition. And, by the way,” she said with a you-can’t-refuse-tone on my recent visit, “you’re taking one home today!”

Then I was very curious about dusting the collection, maybe because I collect stuff too, and I know that can be a pain. Billie’s husband and daughter really smiled when Billie told me, “No need, the angels just flap their wings when I’m not looking and the dust is gone.”

Billie’s most expensive angel — and expensive can be a relative term — is a Swarovski crystal angel she purchased for $100 earlier this year. She knows some crystal angels or paintings can go for a lot more than $100, but when most of her collection comes in lots where she gets change for a $20 bill, $100 is a stretch, but one she was happy to make. “She loves going to the auction every week,” Len says, “and looks forward to it. At 88, it’s what she does, and whose going to stop her?”

Yes, I did leave the Stitt home with an angel. Billie told me to pick one I liked, however. I asked her to pick for me. She chose an eight-inch porcelain (multi-color) angel that was a little ornate. It was not one I would have gravitated to, but because Billie picked it out for me, it was that much more special, and this Christmas season it sits close to me on a windowsill watching me write. I believe Billie saw something in that figure that said, send it home with Art. And I’ll treasure it.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

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