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Nuts about M&M's: Friends collaborate on display of candy-coated collectibles

Mickey Watkins (left) and Peggy Hagen pose with the largest item in their M&M collection.

LAKE PARK, Iowa -- Peggy Hagen and Mickey Watkins were two kids in a candy store -- figuratively and literally. The two women took a road trip to Las Vegas -- not to gamble or see a show -- but for the sole purpose of visiting M&M's World. They spent an entire day at the Vegas retail outlet devoted to the tiny candy-coated chocolates that "melt in your mouth, but not in your hand."

That was about 10 years ago, and their obsession with everything M&M hasn't waned since. Peggy and Mickey are avid collectors of M&M's collectibles and have filled an entire building with their acquisitions.

On a whim while grocery shopping, they bought their first M&M's dispenser in 1991, when both women were working at Sperry in Jackson. Now, they are employed at Northern Iowa Die Casting Inc. in Lake Park, and spend a lot of their free time hunting down more items for their joint exhibit.

"It started out with Christmas and birthday presents," said Mickey, who lives in rural Lake Park, about the collection's origin.

"Then we were at work one night, and there was a Des Moines Register on the break table that had an article about an M&M's collectors meeting in Perry, Iowa," recalled Peggy, a resident of Brewster. "Once we went to that meeting, after we saw what was there, we were in awe. People were selling stuff there that we had no idea even existed."

The women are members of the Iowa M&M's collectors chapter, M&M's Nuts Undercover, and they've also attended a couple of national conventions.

"Our collection, compared to some, is piddling," noted Mickey. "One person in our chapter bought a two-story old schoolhouse and filled the classrooms with all their M&M's stuff."

As the collection grew, Mickey and Peggy ran out of room to display the memorabilia, and the items got packed away in plastic storage totes. Eventually, they decided that if they wanted to do their collection justice, they needed to have an entire building devoted to it, so they had a metal shed erected.

Once the basic structure was in place, they did all the work to turn it into a facility worthy of housing the ever-expanding M&M's extravaganza. They built the shelves that encircle the space from top to bottom and, with the help of friends and relatives, found bookcases, display cases and a china cabinet to house their most precious items. They laid carpet, did all of the painting and sewed curtains from an M&M's print fabric.

"We found out we didn't know how to do crown molding," lamented Mickey about one lesson learned in the process. "A lot of things, we just made work."

The building was constructed in 2007, but it's an evolving work in progress as the women add to and rearrange its contents. Each piece in the collection is an original; no duplicates are displayed, although there are some in storage.

"We'd go someplace, find something and think we didn't have it," Mickey said, pointing across the room. "There's one thing over there, we have five of it."

"Our club has a silent auction, so we'll donate some of the duplicate items to it, and the money goes back into the club," added Peggy.

The collection ranges from the simple -- a framed display of M&M's packages -- to the elaborate, such as a Department 56 house in which Santa Claus, in M&M guise of course, spins around the chimney in his sleigh. Favorite pieces for Peggy and Mickey include a deluxe train set, a plastic glass with a blinking light in its base and a phone that works in the shower.

"We come out here and just sit and look," said Peggy, "because we're still so amazed at how much stuff we had when we unpacked it all."

As the building has filled up, the women have gotten "a little more picky" about the items they add to the collection, and while they used to fill the dispensers, play with them and discard the packaging, now they're more careful to keep things in mint condition and never throw away the boxes. They're also working on compiling and maintaining an inventory.

Peggy and Mickey stress that the collection is jointly owned -- they don't divvy up individual pieces -- and sharing an interest in M&M's memorabilia has made their relationship stronger.

"We'll be friends for life," said Mickey. "She's more like a sister than a friend."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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