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Category:Kendall C. Day Family Collection

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KENDALL C. DAY FAMILY COLLECTION. NOTE: The following article appeared in the Telegraph Herald and introduces the reader to the formation of the collection now featured on this website. Posted: Thursday, November 24, 2011 12:01 am

By MIKE DAY, Senior Editorial Artist/Designer Telegraph Herald

It all started when I found a 3/4-inch USO button in a small box of junk at my dad's workplace — Haltenhoff Florist, at 12th and Main in Dubuque. I was 14 years old that summer of 1978.

I was intrigued at the lithographed pin. It was colorful and historic, and a small enough item to encourage me to collect more, much like the coins and stamps of my younger days. I soon began to gather other pins in the house, including a state Sen. John Walsh button from my oldest sister. Once I had a handful, I displayed them on black velvet-covered Styrofoam mounted in a box.

My father took note of my interest and, perhaps hoping to encourage me to pursue such a safe hobby as a teenager, threw me his full support.

Dad was born in the midst of the Wilson administration and had seen his share of history, including at least one presidential candidate — Wendell Willkie — on a train while making floral deliveries circa 1940.

Despite being a shy man, Dad began asking co-workers, customers, downtown businessmen, friends, relatives, fellow parishioners and nuns of every order for buttons. He also frequented the party headquarters as elections approached.

In November, we discovered the flea market at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds, where I purchased my first presidential buttons, including a "16-to-1" flower representing William Jennings Bryan's support of a silver-based monetary system in 1896. That same month, we made the first of many visits to Schoen's Antiques on Locust Street, and purchased some old local pins. Within six months, the collection had grown to 300.

I meticulously labeled and cataloged every item, making sure to credit whoever was generous enough to contribute to our hobby. The backs of the individual cases contain names like Joe Zehentner, Dorothea Green, Ethel Gassmann, Sr. Dorothy Hennessey, Sr. Bernadine Curoe, Adele O'Brien, Ted Ellsworth and a young, up-and-coming Democrat named Pam Jochum.

Upon his retirement a few years later, button collecting became Dad's favorite pastime. He continued to scour antique shops and we made weekend trips to flea markets. It grew into a family hobby as my siblings became interested and kept on the lookout for pins..

Our excursions evolved into day trips for the men of the family. Each fall for years, we'd chart a course, pack a cooler of bologna sandwiches and pile into a rented van for a "button trip" to antique stores throughout the area. A group treasure hunt, of sorts.

Over the years, the hobby became a bonding experience, not only for my father and me, but for the entire family. It also provided us with an education on history, as we became familiar with many of the issues and personalities behind every presidential election since 1896, when buttons were first patented.

The collection eventually expanded to fill a couple of large cabinets that we purchased for Dad.

I had always thought about donating the local buttons to a museum where others could appreciate them. I never followed through on those plans, though. When my parents passed away in 2005, some items were sold, but most of the collection was disseminated among their children.

With the publication of today's feature on Dubuque buttons, I finally have the chance to share the bit of history that Dad helped assemble.

I think I speak for many TH readers when I say, "Dad, thanks for the memories."