Toys from all generations featured in Christmas display at Kandiyohi County Historical Society museum

"Toyland at the Museum" — a collection of toys on display through December at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society — will bring back that thrill of Christmas morning.

Several Barbie dolls are displayed in the new Toyland at the Museum exhibit at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR – Whether you’re 6 years old and looking forward to getting a new toy for Christmas, or 76 years old and remembering how you felt when there was a special toy under the tree with your name on it, the thrill of a Christmas toy never really does get old.

A collection of toys on display through December at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society can bring back that thrill.

More than 100 toys, donated or loaned from members of the public, are on display at the museum.

The toys arrived after the Kandiyohi County Historical Society sent out a plea seeking toys from different eras for this year’s holiday display.

“We had a huge response,” said Jill Wohnoutka, executive director of the KCHS. “It’s been great.”


There hasn’t been a special Christmas display at the museum for two years, not since the annual Festive Forest — where local groups decorated trees with their own theme — ended after about 30 years.

Wohnoutka said she dug into the archives and found records of a Christmas toy display in the 1980s, and decided to try it again. That’s when she started requesting — and receiving — toys.

Wohnoutka said the community-curated display — which includes old classics like Felix the Cat and toy tea sets from the 1940s and more recent toys like Pokemon, Ninja Turtles and Dora the Explorer – shows the power of public involvement.

Some people brought one or two toys and some brought “boxes of toys” representing “different genres and generations,” said Wohnoutka. “Every generation. You come in here, you’ll find one connection to your youth, I’m pretty sure.”

There are some precious old toys in the collection, like paper dolls from 1893, and timeless toys like Lincoln Logs and Barbie dolls.

“And then we have the '80s boy toys over here,” said Wohnoutka, leading the tour.


And since the museum is the “train keeper” in the county, there are train toys in the display.

Other toys are just odd — reminders of an awkward stage in the transition of toys and technology, like the “Dream Phone” with the message that you can “call 24 boys and listen to what they have to say” promoted on the box.

“So this just proves it doesn’t have to be old to be donated to the historical society,” said Wohnoutka. “Preserved today for tomorrow.”

She said it’s important for museums like the Kandiyohi County Historical Society to keep collecting items from today — like Christmas toys found under the tree in 2019 — to ensure there are exhibits in the future.

“We’re really looking for the more modern things. People think it has to be old, that it has to be an antique, and that is so not the case at all,” she said. “Because how am I going to tell the stories from 2019 if I don’t collect now — because we throw away so much — for a display that’s 75 years in the future?”

The toy display includes a craft area for kids to make Christmas ornaments. They can also write letters to Santa and put them in the red mailbox.

The toys will be on display now through the end of December during regular museum hours, Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as today and Saturdays in December from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The museum, located at 610 NE Highway 71, Willmar, is closed Thanksgiving weekend.


Cost of admission is $3, with 12 and under free.

As part of the special display, new toys are being collected through Dec. 13 that will be donated to the Salvation Army for its annual Christmas toy distribution to area families.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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