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Northwest Herald, Hollyn Johnson, Associated Press
In a photo taken June 15, 2011, McHenry, Ill. County Clerk Kathie Schultz shows off her elephant collection in her office in Woodstock, Ill. Schultz says the collection started when she was elected to office.

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — The reasons people collect vary almost as widely as the objects they gather.

Some collections start accidentally, with a trinket purchased at a souvenir shop, others with a gift. Some grow out of a fascination with a specific topic, maybe a superhero, movie or barnyard animal.

For some, the hobby is about the thrill of the hunt, the search for the piece that will make the collection complete. With others, each piece is a portal to another time or place, which can be visited again and again.

McHenry County is full of collectors, a fact that could be seen in travels around Cary, McHenry and Woodstock this month.

The following is an introduction to just a few resident collectors and a peek at the objects of their fancy:

David Green collects Hot Wheels, die cast cars, model car kits and NASCAR memorabilia. In the basement of his McHenry home, Green estimates he has 400,000 toy and model cars.

He began picking up Hot Wheels in 1968, the year the toys debuted, and in 1971 started a collection for his nephew.

When his own children came along, Green started collections for them, too, ballooning his personal treasure trove along the way.

A true collector in the obsessive sense, when it comes to the Hot Wheels, Green must have every model made every year in as many of the variant paint colors and wheel treatments as possible.

He searches out special editions, too, and sometimes buys multiples of the same car if they are particularly "cool."

"That way I can open one up and play with it," Green said with a boyish gleam in his blue eyes.

Green's fascination with everything automotive, however, predates Hot Wheels.

"My mom told me the story of when I was real little," he said. "I was 2 years old and I wandered out of our apartment in Detroit and walked a mile to this toy store."

Green's family had been at the shop the day before to buy a gift for a friend, he said. That's when he saw a model car in the window and became fixated.

The next day, at the first opportunity, Green toddled himself back to the toy shop, alone.

Fortunately, he made it safely and the shop owner remembered where little David Green belonged.

Every birthday and Christmas since has come with toy and model cars.

Today, Green's collection is massive and fascinating, not only for its size but for its variety.

The collection includes more than a dozen dealer promotion cars from the 1950s. These are small replicas of the vehicles dealerships sold and were used to help customers choose which color car to order.

And on shelves stacked to the ceiling rest more model car kits than one could easily count - in every style, model and variation.

The most valuable, Green said, is a never-assembled 1?16-scale 1955 Thunderbird created by "amt." It alone is worth more than $1,500 because the mold used to make it was ruined when it was modified in1957 to make that year's model.

There also is a small grocery store worth of NASCAR-themed products, including cereal and cracker boxes, mayonnaise and beer bottles, and even a Tylenol race car promotion.

Lisa Forbes loves pigs. In her Cary home, she keeps a collection of about 500 figurines, stuffed animals and other swine themed-items.

Some are valuable, made from Royal Doulton and Lenox china. Others are simply sentimental, such as the hand-painted wooden bank Forbes received at age 8 from her father. It was a get-well present when she had the mumps.

The comprehensive collection includes everything from a jewel-encrusted pig ring to embroidered hand towels and curly tailed business-card holders. It would be hard to find a hole in Forbes' collection.

She has a shelf of "traveling pigs," which includes souvenirs from Mexico, Guatemala and even a hog made from ash at Mount St. Helens. There's a jump rope with piggy handles, a tangle of hog-related key chains, and a Christmas tree covered in Santa pigs, too. Famous porkers Babe, Wilbur, Gordy, Piglett, Miss Piggy and Moo also are present in several incarnations.

Raised in suburban Glenview, Forbes became passionate about pigs when, at age 4, her favorite grandmother, "Nana" Charlotte Muller, gave her a tiny plush piglet made by German toy company Steiff. The animal was followed by other piggy presents, including candy Marzipan pigs and tiny wooden "lucky" pigs with pennies in their backs.

Already finding the barnyard animals "cute," Forbes said, the importance of Muller in Forbes' life helped turn the affinity to collection.

"Besides all the beautiful clothes she made for me, (Nana) never missed my ballet recitals and always had a bouquet of flowers for me," Forbes said.

"She was my best friend, and anything she told me was gold. So if she said pigs were special, they were."

Forbes keeps most of her collection in one room of the house, but a few special ungulates make appearances in the kitchen, bedroom and living room. And her hobby slips into work life, occasionally, too, Forbes admits.

Whenever the certified personal trainer has Jazzercise classes scheduled for March 1, National Pig Day, she can't resist playing the song "Eins, Zwei, Drei ... Schweine," which, she said with a laugh, has snorting sounds in it.

McHenry County Clerk Katherine Schultz also is an avid collector.

When she was in fifth grade, Schultz began collecting salt and pepper shakers.

"I can remember ordering the first pair off of a dog food can," she said with a laugh.

As she grew, so did her collection, and once Schultz was grown, her hobby had become a 300-piece display in her home.

A move to a smaller house a few years ago sent the salt and pepper shakers into storage, but another collection has popped up.

Schultz has a herd of elephants in her office. Around the time Schultz, a longtime Republican, took office, people started making gifts of the pachyderms.

Today, more than 30 made from jade, brass, wood and crystal adorn her office.

There is a little cast-iron paperweight that she inherited sometime during her first decades working with the county. That was probably the first. It stands on a shelf behind her desk, keeping company with a big-eared brass fellow from a former employee and a crystal elephant - trunk up for good luck - which was a gift from former county and state Republican Party Chairman Al Jourdan.

Across the room on top of a large wooden bookcase is a wooden elephant bank. It was a fundraising tool for McHenry County Recorder Phyllis Walters before it became a piece of Schultz' collection.

The wealthy mammal stands next to a group of star-spangled "Lefty" and "Righty" Beanie Babies.

"There are donkeys and elephants," Schultz said. "I have to be fair."

A tiny elephant jingle bell ornament hangs next to the name plate outside of Schultz' office - Room 107A. It is only slightly higher than the donkey one on the opposite door frame.

For Schultz, collecting the famously retentive creatures is fun and a way for her to hold on to happy memories.

She smiles widely when she holds a framed photograph of a cloud formation that looks like an elephant; it was a gift from her niece, who captured the image one sunny afternoon in Wonder Lake. And her eyes sparkle with a hint of mischief when she picks up her Wisconsin Green Bay Packers cheerleader elephant.

"The staff doesn't like this elephant too much certain times of the year," Schultz said. Her late Wisconsin-born husband converted the clerk years ago, and now she bleeds yellow and green.

"Collecting, it's like finding a permanency," she said, "something you can keep."

Information from: The Northwest Herald, http://www.nwherald.com