Pack-O-Fun backstory

I was only ten years old when my parents, Edna and John Clapper, published the first issue of Pack-O-Fun magazine, but I can still recall some of their adventure. That they knew nothing of publishing is an understatement.

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Dad’s family lived in Minnesota and had been hard hit by the depression. His father and uncles were all civil engineers so naturally he followed suit taking advantage of low instate tuition at the University of Minnesota.

Mom on the other hand grew up in a family of means in Park Ridge, Illinois. The only mother she ever knew was her father’s second wife whom he married while Mom was still in diapers. Although her new mom was very caring, she took frugality to new heights. Despite her father’s wealth, Mom grew up knowing the importance of every penny. And although the University of Minnesota was pricey for out of state students, it had an excellent nursing program and her aunt was a professor. So after high school graduation it was off to the Twin Cities for her.

Their meeting must have been predestined. Even though the engineering and nursing campuses were in different cities, a church picnic brought them together … never to be parted again. Like many young couples in those war and post war years, they had kids and moved a lot. Ultimately Park Ridge became home.

Our new home built right after the war was 1,200 square feet. It had two bedrooms and one bath. By we, I mean Mom and Dad, me, my two siblings, Dad’s younger brother Leland, and our collie Pepsi.

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Mom was the Martha Stewart of homemakers. Our birthday parties and neighborhood events were always exciting with loads of games and fun things to do and had the neatest party favors and decorations. And cost little or nothing. At seven or eight years old, I thought this was perfectly normal.

Gifts from us kids to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were always handmade. And made from things that would usually be thrown away.

When I was eight and joined Cub Scouts, Mom became our den mother. Each week Cubs brought ten cents – half for the den mother’s supplies and half for organization. Mom’s frugal upbringing came to the fore, and our den’s projects and skits were bangup successes at pack meetings.

One of the projects for us boys was puppets made of parts cut from cardboard and connected with star fasteners. Of course Mom also wrote a script so we could show off our newly created puppets for the entire pack. Kids and parents alike loved it.

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After the war, our family moved to Park Ridge and Dad started working in his father-in-law’s office. A few years later, Grandpa decided to retire, leaving Dad without a job. About this same time Uncle Leland came to live with us. An award winning builder of model airplanes, he spent a ton of time hanging out at the local hobby shop – a hotbed of enthusiasts dreaming of turning a hobby into a business.

Both Dad and Leland were hard workers and entrepreneurial. They began a manufacturing business: Build-A Products, birdhouse kits to be sold at local hobby shops. Designing the jigs for parts was simple enough for the engineer. And fabrication was all done in our weensy basement tool shop.

Almost as soon as they had the birdhouse business going, they felt a need to expand their product line. Puppets were a natural. After all, they already had the design from Mom’s work as a den mother.

Build-A Products was doomed from the start. They were limited to what they could make in the basement and growing out of the house would eat up any profit. Accepting this, Leland went on to work for an aircraft manufacturer pursuing his love of airplanes. That left Dad itching to create something new.

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Mom’s puppets were a big hit as were a host of other things she was doing. At first other den mothers asked her for ideas. Then word spread and Girl Scout leaders and Sunday school teachers turned to her for help. She had written perfectly clear instructions, but the only way she could share them was making carbon copies. Unfortunately the most she could make at one time was five – and then only if she pounded the keys really hard.

Schools and churches had Ditto machines that could make a hundred of the purple copies, but the machines were expensive. Dad, the engineer, and Mom, the homemaker, teamed up to make a poor man’s printer. They filled a cookie sheet with plain gelatin and transferred the waxy image from a Ditto master to it. Then, one sheet at a time, they peeled a copy from their homemade Ditto copier.

Pack-O-Fun magazine was the next chapter in the adventure. Stay tuned.

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