“This was her favorite room,” says Jessica Gross, ushering us into the small upstairs bedroom of her mother’s former home in Bartonville. “Strawberry Shortcake came out when I was a baby. She dressed me up for Halloween when I was four, I think. She thought it was really cute, and she bought everything for me. But this is all hers—she always loved it more than I did.

“As we got older, we’d get her Strawberry Shortcake stuff as gifts,” she continues, pointing out some of her mother’s favorite pieces. “The ornaments were an annual thing… We’d buy them for her every Christmas.”

A teacher at Limestone for 33 years, Peggy Gross enjoyed going to flea markets and antique stores, always on the hunt for items to complete her various collections. “She had a whole book of index cards that listed what she still needed, and she’d carry it around in her purse,” recalls Jessica’s younger sister, Jenny. But when she passed away suddenly in 2011, the two sisters became reluctant caretakers of their mom’s collections, which includes Snow White and Disney memorabilia, Thomas Kinkade pieces, and more, in addition to the veritable museum of Strawberry Shortcake collectibles that was her primary passion.

Originally created for a line of greeting cards, Strawberry Shortcake was among the top-selling pop-culture phenomena of the early ‘80s. From 1979 to 1985, her likeness—and those of her “berry” best friends—was featured on dolls, books, lunchboxes, clothing, bedding, video games, TV shows and more. Though the franchise has been relaunched several times since its heyday, it’s the original ‘80s memorabilia that remains most desired among collectors and comprises the bulk of Peggy Gross’ collection.

And while Jenny and Jessica don’t share the same passion for Strawberry Shortcake as their mother, they did inherit her love of collecting. “We both have collecting in our genes,” says Jessica, who counts books and Eiffel Tower figurines among the items she collects. “Our ‘problem’ now is music. We got the collecting gene from Mom, the music from Dad, and we kind of combined the two.”

Meanwhile, the relaunched Strawberry Shortcake franchise has introduced the freckle-faced redhead to a whole new generation of girls. “I think a lot of it is nostalgia,” says Jessica. “People my age want to buy what they had as kids for their own kids.”

Though the sisters have “sold a few pieces here and there,” the room remains very much as their mother left it. “I feel a little bit of responsibility to keep it [intact] as a collection,” says Jessica. “But if she hadn’t passed so suddenly, she would’ve worked on getting rid of it before it came to us, because she knew we weren’t that interested.”

“Her favorite joke was always ‘the crap she was leaving us with,’” laughs Jenny.

Certainly, the collection won’t be funding anyone’s retirement, but there is a market for it; there’s even an annual Strawberry Shortcake Convention held each year in Ohio. “We’d like it to go to someone who is also a collector, like Mom was,” Jessica explains. “If we find that person, we would love them!” a&s