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  Dubuquer's Checker Collection Fit for King, by Mary Nevans-Pederson The following article is taken from the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.


Don Deweber, a.k.a. "Mr. Checkers"

Museum and library: The 'caretaker' has collected game-related items since 1978.

One could say that Don Deweber has a checkerd past, present and future.

The Dubuque man is the curator of the World of Checkers Museum and the director of one of the largest libraries of checkers in the world. He also has become an international expert on checkers, checker books and checker memorabilia.

Deweber's tiny, neat-as-a-pin apartment houses much of both collections, with the overflow filling several storage rooms. Checker books line his walls and checker sets fill dresser drawers, kitchen cupboards, closets and shelves. His best checker boards - those made of inlaid wood, marble, onyx, glass or granite - lean neatly against bookshelves.

Twenty years ago, Deweber was an entrepreneur who had just begun Checker Book World. He bought and sold thousands of books on the popular game out of that same Dubuque apartment.

At about the same time, he acquired two extensive checker book collections, both of which were touted by their owners as "the biggest checker library in the world." Deweber could not bring himself to break up the collections, so he founded the John Caldwell-Irving Windt Library of Checkers. He's added thousands of books to the library since. In 1991, he began seeking out checker "stuff," and two years later, the museum was officially established.

Deweber ("Mr. Checkers" to anyone who knows him for long) is a man possessed. He lives and breathes checkers. Since his friends bought him a computer several months ago, he can roam far and wide electronically to collect even more of the boards, books and pieces that he loves.

"They're my life," he said, his intense blue eyes sparkling.

Most days the slight, bespectacled Deweber, 62, can be found bidding on the Internet for a rare checker set, say from the Australian Red Cross, or waiting impatiently for another set to arrive in the mail. He can't relax until the items are safely in his hands. Last week, he received a unique 1934 set embossed with horseshoes, Maltese crosses, acorns, Aesop's Fables characters, Popeye's heads and made out of wood, ivory, cardboard, bake-lite, marbles, pewter, bone and even flooring material.

But in 1978, he got his first book on checkers and, well, one book led to another and another and the collections were born. Deweber won't say his museum and library are the largest ever because that's difficult to prove. He doesn't hesitate to call them the "most complete" collections in the world.

Deweber doesn't consider himself owner of the collections. "I'm just the caretaker of these wonderful things," he says softly.

He has willed his library to Loras College but does not know what would happen to the museum if something happens to him. He's had informal discussions with the Smithsonian Institution about taking over ownership some day. "I'll leave all that up to God."

The checker expert doesn't play many games anymore, except online, though he admits it's not the same as playing in person. He decries the declining interest in a game that was once the social focus of most American homes and other gathering places.

"It was a family activity, cheap entertainment. There were no TVs or radios. People would just cut an old broom handle into 24 pieces and play," Deweber said.

Deweber's love for his checkers and books is evident. He tenderly opens his oldest books - an English tome from 1756 and a Spanish book written in 1650. He proudly displays his favorite checker set boxes printed with charmingly antiquated scenes.

If his collections don't squeeze him out of living space, Dubuque's Mr. Checkers said he will continue on as museum curator and library director for 20 years at least.


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