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Donna Reed's Oscar Comes Home

LOCAL HERO: Another in an occasional Calendar series on how the folks back home view their local boys and girls who have attained celebrityhood.

August 17, 1986|DEBORAH CAULFIELD

DENISON, Iowa — The front window of real estate agent Bill Mullenger's office building is a little emptier with the relocation a prime piece of property--the Oscar belonging to his late sister, Donna Reed. In June, the gold statuette won by the actress in 1954 for "From Here to Eternity" was officially installed in Denison's historical museum, a few doors up the street.

Reed, who died in January, was born and reared in Denison, a town of 7,000, just past Ute on Iowa 141, 55 miles southeast of Sioux City. The actress had always maintained close ties with her hometown and had requested that her Oscar be returned here when she died.

"I brought it back with me after the funeral in January," Mullenger said, explaining that he put the Oscar in the front window of his office building, which contains a home decoration store and his real estate office, until the town decided on a permanent home for it.

As he sat in his tiny, cluttered office late this spring, Mullenger seemed more comfortable talking about property values and closing costs than about the award which, at that time, stood in the window. An amiable man of few words, he speculated that about 15 to 20 out-of-towners had come to Denison to see it.

"They just kind of looked at it and asked how she won it," Mullenger said. "They would pick it up; some would ask if it's pure gold."

He chuckled. "I tell them that if it was, I would have melted it down already."

As Mullenger acknowledged, his sister "had pretty good roots here." To that end, the town held a Donna Reed Film Festival in June in conjunction with the dedication of the Oscar to the McHenry House, a local museum of sorts sponsored by the Denison Historical Society.

Chuck Signs, editor of the Denison Bulletin and chairman of the festival committee, said the two-day event in mid-June "turned out quite nicely indeed."

The festivities, attended by approximately 300 people, included screenings of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "From Here to Eternity," appearances by Shelly Fabares and Paul Petersen, Reed's TV children on "The Donna Reed Show," and a community picnic.

Proceeds were used to establish the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts, which will award scholarships to Denison Community High School seniors who wish to pursue careers in the fine arts.

"We were quite pleased to find that, after expenses, we were able to net approximately $5,500 for the fund. It enabled us to form a non-profit organization and establish an annual event like this to raise more money for the foundation," Signs said.

Besides Fabares and Petersen, Hollywood was represented by actor Howard Keel and actresses Kathleen Nolan and Norma Connelly. James Stewart, who co-starred with Reed in "It's a Wonderful Life," sent a letter in which he talked of his "great respect and admiration" for the actress. In addition, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce sent a plaque with a reproduction of Reed's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Signs said.

He said Reed's classmates from high school (class of 1938) presented Denison with "a nice-looking sign to go on the highway which says 'Denison, Hometown of Donna Reed' and mentions that her Oscar resides there."

While Signs never knew the actress personally, he said her contributions to Denison were well known. "She contributed money to start Midwestern College (now defunct) here in the 1960s and more recently she contributed to a major fund drive for the community library."

The Oscar, Signs said, "has been the talk of the town. People feel very honored that she would be so generous in donating it to Denison. Bill's window looks a little bit different these days with the Oscar gone, but now it's displayed in a beautiful place where everyone can see it."

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