Ruth Klossner, affectionately known as the “cow lady,” has always harbored a love for dairy cattle.
Now the proprietor of the Cow Collector’s “Moo-seum” in Bernadotte, the 65-year-old said her fascination with the bovine dates back to her childhood.
“I’ve always loved cows,” Klossner said. “Ever since I was a little girl, I loved cows. As a kid, all my toys were cows.”
It was that love for cows that inspired her to join 4-H, she said. As a teen, she competed at county and state fairs, showing the cows and competing for awards.
A Holstein name “Princess” became her companion in middle school. The cow won top honors at the 1966 Minnesota State Fair fair and in 1967, Klossner was named National Holstein Girl.
After she graduated high school, she kept Princess close to her side, boarding her at friends’ farms when her own family retired from the dairy business.
It is a painting of Princess, based on a picture taken in the cow’s glory days, that forms the centerpiece of Klossner’s impressive cow-themed collection.
The Moo-seum itself, located in Klossner’s house, is home to more than 15,000 cow items — 15,051 at last count — likely the largest collection of cow memorabilia in the United States, or even the world, Klossner said.
All types of cow items are included in the collection—creamers, sugars, salt and peppers, cookie jars, figurines, wood carvings, wall hangings, toys, games, clothes, books, candles, Christmas ornaments, and much, much more.
Klossner said she’s been collecting the items since 1979. She bought her first collectible, a cow and calf figurine, at a house auction in October 1973. She paid $8 for it.
“And after that I got another piece, another piece, another piece and another piece,” she said with a laugh.
The collection is so impressive, it has been featured in agricultural magazines and newspapers overseas, Klossner said. And it has attracted visitors from as far away as the Netherlands.
“Many of the people who come are with dairy farmers or retired dairy farmers and they’re just interested in cows,” Klossner said. “Others come because they’ve heard about it and think it’s unique to have that many cow items in one place.”
The Moo-seum has also been featured in books about Minnesota, including “Minnesota Curiosities,” Klossner said.
And soon, barring any challengers, she’s hoping it will also be listed in the Guinness Book World Records.
In the meantime, Klossner said the collection continues to grow. More than a quarter of the items have been gifts, she said. The rest come from auctions, souvenir shops and more.
“Some people say I’m the easiest person to buy for because they just buy a cow,” she said “Some people say I’m the hardest, because they’re afraid I already have it.”
The collection, usually seen by appointment, goes on public display the first Sunday of each December when Klossner holds a holiday open house.
This year, the open house will be held Dec. 1 from 2-4 p.m. Milk and cookies or bars will be served. Admission is free.
The Moo-seum is located at 34085 515th Ave., rural Lafayette, in the village of Bernadotte.
“Why should people come?” Klossner said. “Because its different than anything they’ve seen anywhere else.”
Reach reporter Jessica Bies at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @sphjessicabies