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New TV show goes off to see a ‘Wizard of Oz’ collector in Homer Glen

Appraiser JP Cafiero (left) and "Collector's Call" host Lisa Whelchel meet Walter Krueger and his friend and fellow "Oz" enthusiast Sean Barrett at Krueger's home in Homer Glen. | MeTV

There’s no place like home. Especially if it belongs to Walter Krueger, a 32-year-old from Homer Glen who has spent a lifetime filling his southwest suburban home with things related to “The Wizard of Oz.”

He’ll be featured in the April 28 episode of “Collector’s Call,” the first original series on MeTV, the Chicago-based classic TV channel.

People have their collections professionally appraised, then the expert offers to trade one of the collector’s items for something on their wish list.

Other episodes will focus on Survivor guitarist Jim Peterik and his collection of guitars, connoisseurs of Kiss memorabilia, movie posters and ephemera related to Winnie the Pooh.

The show, which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, is hosted by “The Facts of Life” actress Lisa Whelchel, who has her own history with collecting.

“My aunt has owned an antique store most of my life, and she taught me the literal value of collecting,” Whelchel says.

Krueger shares a similar background.

“Collecting was something I shared with my grandmother and my mom,” he says. “At the age of 6, I knew who ‘Chatty Cathy’ was and what she was worth. They were antique doll collectors and taught me that toys sometimes have a value that appreciates long after someone has stopped playing with them.”

Krueger still owns the first “Oz” item ever given to him. It’s a children’s coloring book featuring illustrations from the original book series.

“My grandmother gave it to me to keep me occupied while she was at a doctor’s appointment,” he says. “From that first page, where Dorothy is looking out her farmhouse window at the approaching tornado, I was swept away with along with her.”

He says he has “dabbled” in collecting horror and other movie memorabilia but always seems to find his way back to Oz.

“Nothing resonates more to me,” Krueger says. “Oz is about a life journey of self-discovery. We are always, constantly looking for ourselves, wondering if we are smart enough, brave enough or if we love enough. That’s a journey that doesn’t just stop at childhood.”

He owns more than 10,000 items, including first and second editions of the books and costumes from Oz films. Another of his keepsakes, his favorite, is a figurine of the cubic, catlike creature called “The Woozy” that first appeared in L. Frank Baum’s book “The Patchwork Girl of Oz.”

Carved by Baum himself, the piece was given to Krueger by Baum’s family.

“Over the years, the Baum family has given me stuff to take care of,” he says. “This is nothing short of the preservation of pieces of American history.”

Krueger keeps a Rolodex of every item he currently possesses. As a result, he’s become a bit of a social media wizard. Several years ago, he started a Facebook group called “Wizard of Oz Collectors United!” that now has over 7,000 members worldwide and sometimes matches an item he has with the right collector.

Though his own collection has been appraised at over $2 million, Krueger says accumulating wealth isn’t what should motivate a collector.

“You’ll never feel cheated or disappointed when it is something you love,” he says. “It’s less an investment in a thing and more a good investment for you.”

Misha Davenport is a freelance writer.

Lisa Whelchel (left) and Nancy McKeon on a 1983 episode of “The Facts of Life.” | NBC
Lisa Whelchel (left) and Nancy McKeon on a 1983 episode of “The Facts of Life.” | NBC

LISA WHELCHEL’S ‘FACTS OF LIFE’ FAVORITES

To mark the 40th anniversary of “The Facts of Life,” MeTV will air three hours of episodes of the hit 1980s sitcom, curated by co-star Lisa Whelchel, beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday. A few of her favorites:

“Cousin Geri” (Original airdate Dec. 24, 1980)

A comedian with cerebral palsy (played by comedian Geri Jewell in a groundbreaking role) visits her cousin Blair (Whelchel) at school. ”It’s a credit to the show’s creators that we were allowed to do episodes like this that are both entertainment and also have a positive impact,” Whelchel says.

“3, 2, 1” (Nov. 23, 1985)

Jo and Blair are assigned to work at the campus TV station. “Nancy [McKeon, Jo on the show] is such a brilliant actress. It was always fun to get to do physical comedy with her and this is one of my favorites,” Whelchel says. “Jo handcuffs herself to Blair to get her to read an editorial. We had a lot of ‘Lucy/Ethel’ type moments, and this is a favorite.”

“The Reunion” (Feb. 8, 1986)

Contractor George Burnett (George Clooney) asks Blair to be his pretend girlfriend to make an old girlfriend jealous. “This one is pretty obvious,” she says with a laugh. “It’s the one where Blair got to kiss George, and therefore I got to kiss George Clooney.”