Amy Thoen of Lanesboro has been collecting salt and pepper shakers for many years and has moved them all into her Sylvan Manor apartment. One of her favorite sets is that of a pair of kittens with pink bows around their necks. Also shown is a fine China bell, dated 1978, which is part of her second collection.
Amy Thoen of Lanesboro has been collecting salt and pepper shakers for many years and has moved them all into her Sylvan Manor apartment. One of her favorite sets is that of a pair of kittens with pink bows around their necks. Also shown is a fine China bell, dated 1978, which is part of her second collection.
When Lanesboro resident Amy Thoen recently moved into her Sylvan Manor apartment, she found there wasn't enough room for all of her furniture. Someone suggested that if she got rid of her collection of salt-and-pepper shakers, there would be room for it. "Oh, no," she replied. "I'm never parting with those."

She has given some away, however. And, she admitted, not all of them are currently on display, either. That would be an impossible task, because the number of sets she has are is in the hundreds.

In addition to all of those salt-and-pepper shakers, she has a smaller collection of bells, and a third one of ceramic figurines and dolls.

Now that she is not collecting anymore, she fills her time with two of her other long-time hobbies: crocheting and putting together picture puzzles.

Collecting is a long-time hobby

Thoen, who was 95 in May, can't remember exactly when she started her salt-and-pepper shaker collection, but is sure it was after her husband died at a relatively early age. She "wanted to save something."

She was first attracted to them when she saw them frequently at rummage sales. But then she started traveling and found they were great souvenirs from all the spots she has visited. So, between her own many trips and ones that have been given to her for Christmas and birthday gifts, she has sets from almost every state in the country.

A look at the shelves in her living room confirms that. Just a few examples are the boots from Wyoming, seagulls from Florida, a set made up of a potato and the state's shape from Idaho, coffee pots from Madeline Island, Mich., and Wyoming, lighthouses from Two Harbors, Minn., beer barrels from La Crosse and seagulls from Florida. There is even one which is just two bare feet (with painted toenails); on each one it says "I got a kick out of the USS Alabama."

There is just as almost as much variety in her collection of bells, ranging from a hand-painted, fragile, fine China Christmas bell lettered 1978, to blown-glass dinner bells to pottery bells. She said that she has never used any of the sets in her collection. "I just use my plain old glass shakers!" she said.

Some items are antiques, others just "caught her eye," as did her favorite pair of salt-and-pepper shakers. Those are two very feminine kittens, complete with pink bows around their necks. When asked if those were her favorites because she likes cats, she said emphatically that no, she has never liked cats. But those two particular kittens are colorful and have a nice shape.

But, with so many in her collection, it turned out that it is not that easy to say that just one pair is her favorite. Unlike cats, she really does like birds, and so there are many differing kinds of those in her collections, including several kinds of owls and cardinals. Another favorite is her figurine set of three eagles, perched on the top shelf of one of her collection cabinets.

Born in North Dakota in a granary

While Thoen has ancestral ties to this area, she was born in the Bismarck, N.D., area. Her parents were both originally from around here, her mother having grown up in the Mason City-Osage, Iowa, region, and her father had grown up in the Highland area. They met in Iowa when her father visited his cousins who lived there. In fact, she remembered hearing her parents tell about her father taking the horse and buggy to Iowa to see her. After they married, they moved to North Dakota for work and eventually started farming there.

She recalled being told about the day she was born: even though it was May 1, there was a fierce storm. It was so windy and cold that her father had to tie a rope to hang on to in order to get from one building to another. And in that weather he had to go quite a few miles to get the doctor. It so happens that she was born in a granary, because the farm house was just being built! Her parents eventually moved back to the Highland area where they also farmed.

Thoen met her husband, Amos, a Whalan native, in Lanesboro. One evening she and her sister were walking to the theater and soon they were being followed by Amos and a friend, "one of the Miller boys, who kept company" with her sister. The two fellows took the women to the movie, and after that they dated for a few years before marrying in 1938 at the parsonage in Lanesboro.

The Thoens had four children, Helen Benson of Lanesboro, Merlin of Austin, Richard, also of Lanesboro, and Sandra of Kasson. And now she has 11 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

The couple lived on farms until moving to Lanesboro in 1956, where Amos worked first in the lumberyard and then for the city. Tragically, he suffered a brain injury in a traffic accident at the age of 51 and died after spending 19 years in a nursing home. Prior to marriage, she had been working as a housekeeper; after her spouse died, she went back to work for many years.

Items in collections help bring back memories

It was after she returned to work that she also started traveling - and collecting! Talking about the kittens in her salt-and-pepper set collection, she recalled a photo she "has somewhere" - which she later found - of her aunt feeding a cat out of a dish. Watching the cats is Amy at about one year-old or so, and so dirty she was black all over. She laughed that maybe she had been playing with the cat and that's how she got so dirty.

Looking at some of the others, she remembered going to the wedding dance when Lillian Olson, a deceased Lanesboro resident, got married. Thoen was sitting in the room where the dance was held, with baby Helen on her lap, waiting for Lillian to come out of the ladies' room. She waited. And she waited. Finally, she went in to see what was the problem. It turned out that Olson's garter had broken, so Thoen took a safety pin from baby Helen's diaper to use instead.

Thoen mused, "I don't remember if it worked okay," but concluded that it must have because Olson returned to the dance.

While Thoen enjoys her collections year-round, it is at this holiday time that they both stand out from and fit right in with the Christmas decorations. She has snowmen, Santas, angels, of course the bells, and every other symbol of the season.

She is also proud of two other long-term hobbies, quilting (which she no longer does) and crocheting, both of which activities produce beautiful pieces of art. Over the years, she has created many pieces which have been gifts to others and some of which she still has herself. She's always working on new pieces, that is when she is not putting together picture puzzles on a table that is in her living room just for that purpose.

As she said, she "likes to have something to do."

As Thoen pointed out various salt-and-pepper shakers from many far-flung places, she reminisced about her travels, another hobby.

"I'm sure glad I did all of that traveling while I could," she concluded.

She is especially grateful that she brought back all of those special things for her collections, even if they do take up a lot of space in her new living room!