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Maureen Stapleton donates her 'Wizard of Oz' collection to museum

Longtime resident, business owner has 25 years of memorabilia

Jan. 23, 2013

City of Oconomowoc - When Maureen Stapleton's downtown real estate office was destroyed last July, she said everything of importance to her was in there - except her beloved Wizard of Oz collection.

Memorabilia that might even make Judy Garland's eyes glaze over was intact and because of this, Stapleton said it's time to give it a new home. She recently donated the Oz collection she's been adding to for the last 25 years to the Oconomowoc Historical Society and Museum.

"It occurred to me after that, that I better get it in the hands of the public," Stapleton said of her generous donation.

Museum Administrator Nancy Lins has the collection safely packed away for the time being, but there are plans to share it with the public. Lins said while the collection includes a lot of "collectible" knickknack-type items, it also includes one-of-a-kind, valuable books from Oz history.

"It's so great that we are able to have this because personal collections like this can easily just get lost," Lins said.

Stapleton most recently brought out her collection to adorn downtown in 2009 when the city celebrated its Oz roots. Oconomowoc became "Ozconomowoc" that fall to celebrate the 70th anniversary of "The Wizard of Oz" during Festival week. The film actually premiered at the Strand Theater in Oconomowoc in 1939.

Stapleton filled her office and other store windows with her collection which has its start because of Oconomowoc's special Oz tie. Stapleton said that decades ago a historic downtown clothing store closed up shop one day. "I remember wondering why they never offered it to someone else to run," Stapleton recalls.

While discussing the store's closing, Stapleton said she and Denny Daggett, who was then serving as the city's director of economic development, thought about creating a downtown tourist spot that commemorates the city's history with the famous movie.

"We talked about making it a tourist stop with a museum. We could paint the sidewalk like a yellow brick road," Stapleton said. However, the dreams of somehow creating a tourist destination while also trying to maintain their own full-time careers gave Stapleton a reality check.

"As we spent time trying to wrangle this together, I looked at Denny one day and said, 'We're nuts. What am I going to be doing, wandering downtown carrying a little dog trying to get people to go to this museum?' " she said with a laugh.

So the idea of the Oconomowoc downtown Oz museum faded away, but Stapleton continued to be known as the city's Oz lady. "People started bringing me stuff," she said. And they haven't stopped for the last two decades.

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Weekend Happenings

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Rotary Pancake Day: 7:30 a.m. Feb. 28, Waukesha County Expo Center, 1000 Northview Road, Waukesha. Fundraiser for the Waukesha Rotary Club is 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Expo Center Arena. Advance tickets at Waukesha State Bank, downtown location., $5-$7. $5 advance, $7 at the door; free for children 5 and younger. www.waukesharotary.org.

Ninth Annual Oconomowoc Rotary Wine & Brew Fest: 5 p.m. Feb. 28, Olympia Resort, 1350 Royale Mile Rd, Oconomowoc. Wine, food and beer. Features foods from the best of our local restaurants. Purchase tickets at $50 from an O-Town Rotarian, through Facebook, or in person at most area First Bank Financial Centre locations, Books & Company & Lorleberg True Value Hardware. See more at www.oconomowocrotary.org. $50.

Chili Tasting: 11 a.m. Feb. 28, The Garden Mart, W297 S9115 Highway 83, Mukwonago. Chili tasting from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Local vendors will be selling unique merchandise. Judging is open to the public and all proceeds from voting will be donated to the Mukwonago Food Pantry. Event is free. Call (262) 363-5252 for information.

Dr. Seuss Birthday Bash Literacy Event: 10 a.m. Feb. 28, Hartland North Elementary, 232 Church Street, Hartland. Families with children in 4-year old kindergarten through second grade are invited to a special event. The Cat in the Hat and the Lorax will celebrate with a big birthday cake for all of our guests along with lots of literacy activities based around Dr. Seuss books.

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