Like most kids, Windsor Heights resident Darryl Ahnemann played with a lot of different toys during his childhood.
The toys he played with were a reflection of the era he lived in, from the way his parents made a living and what they did as a family to have fun. Ahnemann kept most of the toys that helped shaped him into the person he is today.
“I don’t recall ever pestering my folks for a certain toy to play with or anything like that,” says Ahnemann. “I was just grateful for anything I was given.”
He was born on Dec. 9, 1941 — just two days after Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, dragging the United States into World War II. The war would last until 1945.
Those four years of war had an impact of the kinds of toys Ahnemann played with as a child.
“All my toys were made out of paper or wood,” says Ahnemann. “That’s because all the metal had to be saved for the war efforts.”
Building blocks were the norm then, and wooden blocks were a great way to improve a developing child’s finger strength and hand-eye coordination. Each of the blocks had a letter of the alphabet on it, so a child could also learn how to spell and read while having fun with them.
“I would spend hours playing with those blocks,” says Ahnemann.
Another set of toys from the war era were wooden stand-up paper litho farm animals.
“One side of the stand-up was a painting or a photo of an animal — like a cow, for instance — which was cut out and put on a wooden stand so it can stand on its own,” says Ahnemann. “On the other side it had the name of the animal and what its characteristics were.”
For example, one side of a stand-up cutout Ahnemann kept looks like an ordinary sheep. But when turned around to the other side, writing on the paper says it’s actually a hampshire ram because it “appears low-set and compact with width, depth and uniformity” and that “the ears should be of the same color as nose and legs.” Ahnemann kept a dozen or so of these.
“I was a farm boy, so these cutout animals were really fun to play with,” says Ahnemann. And because he grew up on a farm, his toys, as he got older, reflected that.
“By the time I was 10 or so, toys were starting to be made out of metal again,” says Ahnemann. “So I got toy tractors with discs and plows to hook on to them so I could pretend to farm.”
Ahnemann and a neighbor friend would spend hours at one particular spot near the end of the driveway leading to his house.
“That spot was where the best sandy loam soil was other than what was in the fields,” says Ahnemann. “It was perfect for making rows with the plow and such.”
Two of the toy tractors Ahnemann kept were modeled after the same tractors his father used in the field.
“I have a John Deere A and a John Deere 60,” says Ahnemann. “Neither one of them is completely intact, but I have kept most of the pieces together. I would love to someday get them put back completely together.
“I don’t want them completely refurbished, however. I don’t care if the paint on them is chipped or coming off. Toys like these were meant to be played with, so I don’t mind that they show signs of wear and tear.”
Ahnemann also kept a set of tin dishes he received as a young boy. His older sister had a set of dishes that he would play with every once in a while, says Ahnemann.
“The trouble was those dishes were made out of glass,” he says. “At some point my parents got me the tin dishes so I would stay out of my sister’s set.”
The tin dishes included plates, forks, teacups and a tea kettle among other things.
“My dad even built me a small oak table to put my dishes on,” says Ahnemann. “I still have that table as well.”
Ahnemann has also kept things like a mechanical, wind-up race car, a car so fast “that it would leave black marks on the wood floor,” he says.
His mother is to thank for saving all the toys his brothers and sisters played with. When it came time to divide the toys among the remaining family members, Ahnemann says he and his brother devised a simple plan.
“He said to me, ‘I will take a good one, and then you take a good one. Then I will take a bad one, and you take a bad one.’ We did this until all the toys were gone,” he says.
Included in the one of the “good” toys Ahnemann was able to get was the erector set his father had purchased for his sons.
“The erector set was a big deal back then,” he says. “Again, it was metal, and you could actually build something with it instead of pretend building.”
Ahnemann, with his boxes full of childhood toys, doesn’t have a favorite in the bunch. They are all special to him, he says, and each has special memories attached to it.
“That is something I cannot figure out about people who collect toys and don’t open the box to play with them,” he admits. “Toys are meant to be played with. There were not meant to be bought, never taken out and then on a shelf collecting dust.”
Kevin Meredith of Windsor Heights has been a baseball and card game collector most of his young life.
Meredith says he has thousands of “Star Wars” cards to go along with some Pokemon cards and others that he has been collecting since high school.
It wasn’t until he went to college at Indian Hills that he became interested in another collectible item — Gundam models and action figures.
“I grew up in a very small town, and we didn’t have cable (television),” says Meredith. “When I was in college, I began watching the Gundam series on the Cartoon Network. That’s when I started buying, building and collecting the action figure models from the show.”
Gundam is a metaseries of space opera animation created by Sunrise Studios in Japan that features giant robots (or “mecha”) called “Mobile Suits.”
Meredith graduated from Indian Hills in 2002 and since that time has collected 25 of the Gundam figures, including the one called “The Burning Gundam.”
“They are really more like models,” says Meredith. “You have to put them together first, and they’re sort of like action figures where you can move and pose them any way you want.”
His other collections, however, make his Gundam set seem pretty small in comparison. Besides his “Star Wars” card collection, Meredith has drinking glasses and other accessories related to the movie.
“My grandma even bought me a phone in the shape of Darth Vader’s head,” he says.
Meredith keeps almost all of his collection in his room in a house he shares with two other roommates. His bookcase is full of Gundam action figures, cards and reference books on collectibles.
“As you can see, I don’t have a lot of space to keep my stuff,” he says. “I have some things that spill out in the living area, but all my collectibles are in my room.”
Meredith has several Ken Griffey Jr. rookie baseball cards in his collection. He also has a Ted Williams baseball card that could be worth a lot of money.
“I was at a garage sale and bought it for a dollar,” he says. “It looked to me like it had been autographed at one time, but the writing is faded.”
Meredith took the Ted Williams card to a shop in Des Moines, and the opinion was that it was indeed real. It’s that card, and his Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards, that he will always keep, Meredith says.
“I don’t care how much they tell me those cards are worth,” he says. “They are a permanent part of my collection.”
Meredith says he plans on adding to his Gundam collection.
“On a scale of one to 10 of being a collector, I was a 10,” he says of his former days as a Gundam collector. “Now I am probably more a 7 because I have bills and rent to pay now. Those things come first; my collection comes second.”