Sooner or Tater
Former Teacher Donates Mr. Potato Head Collection to Children’s Museum
One Friday in 1995, Terry Moore went to Burger King for her weekly treat — a croissant and a coffee. This week, she noticed something different— a five-foot Mr. Potato Head figurine promoting a new movie called Toy Story as well as the new french fry recipe.
Moore began picturing the large, smiling potato in her classroom at Howard Elementary and decided to ask if she could snag the display when the promotion was over. She knew it was an odd request, but it didn’t hurt to ask. A few weeks later, the manager called and said she could come pick up the Mr. Potato Head display.
It was hard to miss the whimsical figurine in Moore’s classroom, and she used that to her advantage. She threw out the french fry box and put announcements, like due dates and reminders, in its space. Students, as well as staff, took notice.
The evening custodian talked with Moore about the toy’s revival and began bringing her the kid’s meal toys from Burger King. His wife worked at Burger King’s business office and would grab the newest arrivals.
All the little potato toys intrigued the kids. It became a big thing that stuck out about Moore’s classroom. Every once in a while, a student would add to the collection with a full-sized Mr. Potato Head toy or other Potato Head merchandise.
It was a sweet way for students to show they cared. One shy student brought in a Cubs-themed Mr. Potato Head. Moore knew he must be paying attention to remember she was a Cubs fan.
Over 25 years, Moore accumulated more than 100 items in her collection. She received a Potato Head pillow, Potato Head robe, themed figures like the Elvis Potato Head and even a Potato-Head-shaped massager. Moore didn’t spend a dollar on the collection — it was all gifts.
The collection built up on the shelves of Moore’s classrooms at Howard Elementary and Northwestern Elementary and was overflowing. When retirement seemed distant, she imagined she would give each child in her last class a Potato Head. But then, she thought they might end up in trash bins or thrift stores. Her friends said to sell the collection on eBay, but Moore would feel weird making a few bucks off students’ gifts.
Moore wanted the collection to stay together. Its value was in the sheer number of things that comprise this assortment of Potato Heads. She decided The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis would be the best home.
She began her email “To whom it may concern” and described the collection as well as she could. Andrea Hughes, the curator of the arts and humanities collections, wasn’t concerned but intrigued by the offer. After seeing a few pictures, Hughes offered to pick it up. But Moore said she secretly would love to drop off the Potato Heads for a chance to see the behind-the-scenes portion of the museum.
Moore pictured a few rooms of unused displays, but she saw thousands of square feet that were meticulously organized. The tour was worth the donation, she says.
Her friend and fellow teacher Jan Koloszar and her grandkids came for the tour. They helped pack up seven of the nine cases of Potato Heads after Moore fell and broke her arm taking down and cleaning the collection at school.
The collection needed a good scrub, Moore says. Some pieces had as many as 15 years of grime caked on. She hopes the museum will get them out and spiff up the dirty figures.
For now, the collection sits on the shelves in the illustrious storage rooms of The Children’s Museum. Hughes put a note on the cases to call Moore if the Potato Heads make the public floor. But Moore is content just having them in a good place.
The original five-foot Potato Head from Burger King has faded over time. All that stands now is the facial features. Moore mounted them on the classroom board and accompanied the expression with quotes.
Its time has passed, much like Moore’s time teaching. She’s now retired and loves being remembered, even for things like Mr. Potato Head. Moore’s time teaching lives on in the minds of her students as well as on the shelves of The Children’s Museum.