Gerald Schmitt intended for his retirement to be productive, so he started a business repairing old toys during his first career.
Gerald and his wife, Dianna, started Our Playhouse with a storefront in Dodge City where he taught vocational agriculture at the local high school for 31 years. After retirement, they sold the building and moved to Wichita. Now, instead of a storefront, most of their business is on Ebay or at various toy shows.
“I usually have around 350 items for sale on Ebay at all times,” Gerald says. “I have to stay on top of it because of the changes of how people buy.”
Entering his basement is like a walking into a toy museum from the 1920s – his favorite era of toys.
“I get a kick out of finding an old broken toy and fixing it up,” Gerald says. “Each toy has a story to tell.
The Schmitts designed their retirement home in Wichita to accommodate Gerald’s toy repair business so a third-car stall was added to the garage to serve as a workshop. He considers his two most critical tools a wire welder and JB Weld – a paste-like substance that is easily molded, yet dries as hard as metal.
Once the toy is repaired, he restores it to the original color and applies decals. The worth of the toy is substantially increased if it comes with the original box.
Next, the toy is taken to his basement to an area he calls Ebay Central. There, items are catalogued and photographed.
“I put a price tag on each of the toys so our children know their approximate worth,” Gerald says. “I’ve seen a lot of estate sales where valuable toys go for next to nothing.”
Gerald and Dianna enjoy traveling to find their toys in various places like flea markets, garage sales, estate sales and auctions. There are five cities in Kansas which host toy shows: Salina, Chapman, Minneapolis, Dodge City and Wichita.
“We see a lot of country and meet some wonderful people,” Dianna says. She is also a collector of Annalee dolls.
In addition to their business of repairing toys, Gerald and Dianna serve in various volunteer and advocacy capacities at the local and state level for AARP Kansas. One of the accomplishments of AARP in Kansas of which they are the most proud is the Grandparents Park in Wichita.
“I spent eight years on the City Council for Dodge City, then five years as the mayor,” Gerald says. “I learned that legislators pay attention to people who talk to them about various issues. AARP is out there working on our behalf and it’s important we talk to people about the political decisions that affect us. Advocacy is important.”
Now, more than ever, people like Gerald and Dianna are needed in our state to restore broken things.
They live life re-imagined and, in so doing, enrich their own lives and the lives of fellow Kansans.
*Photos by Rick McNary