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Thanks, Chet, for helping an Iola kid start a lifetime of collecting coins

As I sit today to pen this story, I realized that it was 50 years ago to the day that Harold and Norma Vandenbergen drove out of Iola with 4-year-old Judy and almost 13-year-old Dennis in their 1962 Chevy heading 50 miles south on Highway 49 to Berlin, Wis., to start a new page in our lives.
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From the Numismatic News 60th Anniversary Special Issue - Dennis Vandenbergen • Appleton, Wis.

Last evening I read your Aug. 21, 2012, issue of Numismatic News and learned of your upcoming 60th Anniversary Edition and request for reader/collector stories. As I sit today to pen this story, I realized that it was 50 years ago to the day that Harold and Norma Vandenbergen drove out of Iola with 4-year-old Judy and almost 13-year-old Dennis in their 1962 Chevy heading 50 miles south on Highway 49 to Berlin, Wis., to start a new page in our lives.


It has also been 20 years since Michael Goc wrote Just Plain Chet, the history of Krause Publications. If you have never read the story, I suggest you get the book and discover 40 years of an icon of the industry and our hobby, Mr. Chester L. Krause, aka “Just Plain Chet.”
My parents had moved to Iola in 1949 a few months before I was born. My father, Harold (although most in town knew him as Vandy or Bud), worked for Wisconsin Power and Light Co. and became friends with an 18-month-older Chet Krause, who was a skilled carpenter. While I can’t attest to their friendship in the early years, I can tell you that by 1954, Chet and his older brother Neil were building a new house for us on John Street in Iola. It was that summer and fall when I was a nosey 5-year-old with a sponge for a brain trying to learn everything and anything I could – that I got to know Chet and Neil Krause.

I’m not sure why, but as a 5-year-old I could skate by calling them Chet and Neil, not Mr. Krause and Mr. Krause. There was an easiness in growing up in Iola in the 1950s. Everyone knew almost everyone else. I don’t remember using locks on the doors of our house. Kids were expected at meals and when the street lights went on, you better head for home.

I spent a lot of days hanging around and I’m sure getting in the way at the house site that summer. It was during that time that I found Chet to be more reserved and quiet than Neil; more business-like. Probably because he was in charge and Neil worked as much for Chet as with him. Neil, on the other hand, was much more outgoing and reachable to a kid. He reminded me of one of those long and lanky early TV cowboy types. He had a Richard Boone mustache and by 1957 I was calling him Paladin after the black-and-white TV series “Have Gun – Will Travel,” starring Richard Boone as the gunslinger, Paladin. Neil was always Paladin to me until we moved. Sadly, Neil passed too young. I wish he were here to enjoy the celebration for Chet in this milestone for Numismatic News.

Even though Neil was more outgoing as a kid, Chet had something that attracted me more – coins. Chet was into coins, he could talk about coins and collecting them. Chet could show you old coins and I mean old coins – even ancients made before Jesus Christ walked the earth.

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I was hooked. It was now 1955 and I wanted to collect coins like Chet Krause. It was Chet and Lee Johnson, our local insurance agent, who got me my first blue Whitman holders for Lincoln pennies and Jefferson nickels, and the quest was on. Chet and Lee Johnson were great helps in getting me started with collecting coins.

Sadly, though, 1955 was the year they closed down the San Francisco Mint, creating the “S-mint monster” in me. I’ve always liked to collect mini hoards of S-mints – like the ’09-S, ’09-S VDB, ’31-S Lincolns; how about ’31-S Buffalos or better yet a baker’s dozen of San Francisco Saints. All in all, 1955 was a good year to start collecting.

To get to the grade school in Iola, I had to walk around the corner from our new Chet Krause-made house down past the Krause homestead where Chet lived with his mother, Cora, and up the hill a few blocks to the school.

Lucky for me, on the way home after school on many occasions, I would see Mrs. Krause and she would invite me in for cookies, pie or cake – the woman was a great baker! Lucky for me, again, Mamie Eisenhower was in the White House and didn’t give a rat’s butt what this chubby little Dutch boy was eating at the Krause home. But unlike her sons, I never would have called her Cora. She was Mrs. Krause and I’d still call her that today.

Collecting seemed to explode in 1955. Everyone was doing it – so it seemed. Iola barber Palmer Gunderson, who cut my hair from age 3 to 13, was an avid penny collector of Lincoln and Indians. Palmer showed me my first 1909-S and others he had gotten in business change. His shop was, by today’s standards, full of antiques and old coins.

My dad was a help as well. Armed with a $20 bill from my dad, I could stop at Sydney Leean’s Bank of Iola after school and pick up 40 rolls of pennies to sort through that night. When I switched to sorting nickels and dimes, I usually could get a second batch of rolls before the bank closed. Collecting dimes were tough in the mid-1950s when you were on a 50 cents a week allowance.

But Dad’s help and approval wasn’t always there, especially when I started buying coins out of Numismatic News ads for more than face value. This Depression-era Dutch child, now my dad, just didn’t understand what I was learning from the likes of Chet, Lee and Palmer.
Yet Dad and I seemed to be around Chet a lot at the Iola Herald, and I can’t remember for the first or last issue printed before printing went to Stevens Point. and at the new building in 1956 as it was being built. Check page 36 in Michael Goc’s book. The two-tone dark green/light green 1953 Chevy was my dad’s.

It was tough to leave Iola in 1962 and leave behind friends (I played with Ed Rochette’s kids) and to leave my coin collector support group in the sleepy Norwegian village.

Over the last 50 years, the big “C” was not about cancer but collecting. I am a collector – coins, cars, clocks and crocks. There were years that the coin books laid dormant on the shelves and cars were front and center. Others when I had booths in antique malls called “Clocks and Crocks.” Yet on and off during these years, coins would always surge back as my first love. I still have an old Corvette and a show-winning Thunderbird, several large jewelers Regulator clocks and a 40-year collection of old Sleepy Eye pottery and stoneware, but coins do more for me than all the others combined.

Sometimes I really do miss my first decade in coin collecting as a kid. Today a child just can’t collect 20th century circulated sets anymore from bank rolls. So for the last three decades, collecting coins for me has turned into “the thrill of hunt” – chase the lead, search the small shows and big shows, read the ads – hope you find what you need to finish that set and then hope you can afford it! The reality of this has allowed me to meet a lot of very interesting enthusiasts and dealers from coast to coast – too many to mention but you know who you are.

My fab five coins:
5 – 1918/17 Buffalo
4 – 1901-S quarter (Thanks, Fritz Voecks @ Fox Valley Coin.)
3 – 1918/17-S Full Head Standing Liberty (Jay Cline, you’re the best.)
2 – 1895 Morgan (Dave Welsh – DCW Collection)
1 – 1920-S Saint-Gaudens (I thank God!)

But the best sentimental piece of my collection: Whitman Publishing Company, Racine, WI, No 9004, Made in U.S.A., Lincoln Head Cent Collection Number One 1909 to 1940 inclusive, Copyright 1949. It’s in pretty tough shape but still has circulated Lincolns in it.
My heartfelt thanks for 57 years of coin collecting to the one and only – Chet.

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