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The tick-tock of the clock: Worthington man’s collection soothes the soul

Harry Robyn stands next to the clock he and his wife, Mina, received as a wedding gift in 1948. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)1 / 3
Harry Robyn stands next to one of his walls of clocks in his Worthington home earlier this week. Robyn has about 300 clocks in his collection. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)2 / 3
The tiniest clock in Robyn's collection is this little mailbox clock, which looks more like a watch face. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON — Sitting in the dining room of Harry Robyn’s Grand Avenue home, one is lulled by the constant tick-tock, tick-tock of the clock, but when it strikes the hour, get ready for a cacophony of sounds that range from chirping birds and running water to the stanzas of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

At one time, Harry had cuckoo clocks cuckooing too — seven of them — but they started to get on his nerves so he stopped winding them every day.

“They’re a nuisance,” he says.

Harry has clocks in all shapes and sizes, from the ordinary to the unique, filling in just about every space on his walls and a lot of spots on mantels, end tables and wherever else he can find a home for them.

“If my wife could see this, she’d say, ‘What are you doing with all of this junk?’” Harry claims.

But it was his wife — the grief of missing his wife — that led to this timeless collection.

“I was married 67 years,” Harry says. “My wife has been gone, it will be six years in August.

“I’d be sitting here, wishing she was home, and the old cuckoo clock would cuckoo and it would take my mind off of her,” he shares. “So then I thought a second cuckoo clock would, too.”

Today, his collection includes about 300 clocks. Most of them are garage sale buys or auction finds. He picked up quite a few from the Bibles for Missions store in downtown Worthington, and his daughter has picked up a few clocks for him as well. They are brought home with missing batteries and sometimes missing parts, or they simply don’t work. He’s made new pendulums featuring photographs of granddaughters, and stocks up on AA batteries when there’s a good buy. This spring, after he returned from his 32nd winter in Mission, Texas, Harry purchased 68 batteries and still didn’t have enough to get all of the clocks up and running again.

His favorite among all the clocks is one that hangs on the living room — a gift to him and his wife, Mina, on their wedding day back on Nov. 2, 1948. Mina’s brother and sister-in-law gave it to them.

His display includes a grandmother clock, a world clock that “tells you what time it is all over the world,” says Harry, and a clock in the shape of a mariachi musician that, at the press of a button, blares music followed by the clippity-clop of horses hooves. Dog Chico — a 19-year-old Chihuahua — barely reacts to the commotion.

Though Harry has backed off from buying more clocks, he won’t turn one away when friends and family find one for him.

“I’d find a place somewhere,” he says, realizing it would be just one more soothing sound to add to his collection.

Harry grew up near Mille Lacs Lake in northeast Minnesota and bought his Worthington home in 1967, after his sister, Pearl, married Worthington native John Sheepstra and settled here. Harry’s career included working as a farm hand, then at the Ford garage and the state highway department before retiring after a 12-year stint as a truck driver.

Last month, Harry celebrated his 90th birthday.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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