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Toy collector extraordinaire

Though he lost his wife and companion, Lillian, several years ago, Lou LaPointe still has plenty of company in his room at Detroit Lakes' Emmanuel Community.

An assortment of stuffed animals; troll dolls; miniature cars, trucks and semis; and toys of every size and description adorn the bookshelves, chair and bed, and there are several more stored away in his closet.

The toys are a source of considerable interest for the staff and residents at Emmanuel, which Lou has called his home since last fall. Before that, he spent a couple of years living with his daughter Beverly and son Mark at their home in Audubon.

"I lost my wife three years ago," Lou says. "We were living in Fresno, Calif., for a long time."

In fact, the couple called the Sunshine State their home for 40 years. But Lou's obsession with toy collecting began long before that -- in 1949, to be exact.

"I liked toys because I never had them when I was a kid," he explained. "My father and mother had 18 kids -- there wasn't enough money for toys.

"My older brother Phil and myself, we always had 'hand-me-downs,'" Lou says.

So when he got old enough to acquire his own possessions, Lou says, "I decided to hang on to everything I got."

Before his toy collection began, Lou served a three-year stint in the U.S. Army. He was an army infantryman, and served in the European Theater of Operations during World War II.

"I was wounded in Germany," he says. Lou would earn both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his service during the war.

Though he was born in Connecticut, Lou spent most of his life in California, where he and his first wife, Patricia, raised three daughters -- Peggy, Beverly and Melody (Lou also had three stepchildren from Patricia's earlier marriage).

They were married for 23 years before Patricia's death. Five years after he lost his first wife, Lou married Lillian, to whom he remained a devoted and loving husband until her death.

"After Lil and I married, we bought an RV and traveled all over the U.S., about 25,000 miles," Lou says.

They also spent some time in Canada and Mexico during their travels. Lou had also spent some time on the road prior to his marriage to Patricia all those years ago.

"I had what they call itchy feet," he says.

And of course, he was also a toy collector.

"I started going to yard sales and garage sales, picking up anything I could find (i.e., collectible toys)."

It was a passion that he and Lillian shared -- so when he lost her, he lost his interest in collecting as well.

"When I lost her, I lost everything," he says, noting that outliving both Lillian and his oldest daughter, Peggy, was "a hard thing to take."

So when his daughter Beverly and her husband Mark asked him to move to Audubon with them, he said yes.

"I had nothing in California without my wife, so I sold my home and moved here with them," he said.

Last year, they made the decision for him to move to Emmanuel, though Beverly and Mark are still frequent visitors.

"They come here about three or four times a week," Lou says.

In fact, Lou is rarely alone for too long.

"I get visitors here all the time," he says. But when his family is here, Lou adds, he sends his other visitors back home.

"My kids, they come first," he explains.

Beverly and Mark were even able to persuade him to part with some of his beloved toys; last October, he held a sale at Emmanuel.

"I was getting too much," he explains. "I had a room full of toys, a garage full of toys... so I talked it over with Mark and Beverly, and I had a big sale."

But he still has plenty of them left to delight visitors when they stop by to see him.

In fact, says Emmanuel Fund Development Coordinator Sandy Lia (a frequent visitor), though Lou's grandchildren live in California and he doesn't get a chance to show off his collection to them, he makes up for it by playing with the staff and residents at the nursing home instead.

"You can't come into his room without him getting a toy out to play with it," she says.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454