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Meet Tog, a national treasure  

Published in San Diego Union-Tribune

October 11, 1986

Written by:  Mark Sauer - staff writer

The Statue of Liberty actually turns 100 this month, but we celebrated on the Fourth of July. Time magazine called it "the party of the century!"

What short memories we have. And how we love to indulge in patriotic hype these days. is my idea of a national treasure, an authentic piece of work. Actually, he is a work in progress, still curious about life's offerings even though he is well past retirement age.

Tog and I became pen pals 10 years ago -- you remember, 1976, the Bicentennial Year, when another wave of patriotism washed over the nation.

It got pretty embarrassing at times, what with red, white and blue toilet seats and dogs saluting Bicentennial fire hydrants.

But a few people like Tog managed to put it all into perspective by celebrating quietly, with dignity, restraint, ingenuity.

Wilmar Tognazzini is a retired superintendent of schools who lives with his wife, Henrietta, on a lovely stream outside Morro Bay. It was extraordinary that we came to know each other since I lived 2,500 miles away in Lansing, Mich.

Tog, who took the job as director of tours at the Hearst Castle, had a big problem in 1976.

President Gerald Ford had said the tall ships and ticker-tape parades were fine. But he urged Americans to find a personal Bicentennial project to commemorate 200 years of independence.

Tog took the president's urging to heart and his idea was terrific:

Each state had issued a special Bicentennial stamp. Tog wanted to have all 50 state stamps canceled by the post offices in the state capitals on July 4, 1976. Then he would present a set of the stamps to each of his eight children.

There was nothing illegal about it. Indeed, when he sent his packages of eight stamps to capital-city postmasters, in May, many obliged him early and sent notes congratulating Tog on his idea.

He wound up with eight sets of 49 Bicentennial stamps canceled in 49 state capitals on July 4, 1976. You guessed it -- the Lansing postmaster balked.

She was a tough old bureaucrat who refused to see Tog's project for what it was. She insisted he was trying to manufacture a rare and valuable stamp collection and she utterly refused to be a party to it.

She didn't know Tog.

It was easy to thwart the plan by simply letting Tog's stamps languish until July 4 had come and gone. Then she hid behind the federal law that prohibits postmasters from postdating stamps.

Understandably, Tog was a mite upset. U.S. attorney general; the governors in Sacramento and Lansing; consumer advocates; "60 Minutes"; even Johnny Carson.

He traveled to Washington and tried to see the postmaster general. Failing that, he told his tale to any postal bureaucrats who would listen (and many who wouldn't).

Then he wrote to the official "Bicentennial editor" of The State Journal in Lansing. It was the best story I'd heard all year; so American.

Tog sent me a ton of documentation on everything he had accomplished to that point and the evidence was clear: The Lansing postmaster was plain wrong -- and mean-spirited to boot.

When I confronted her, she folded her arms and harumphed and said she wasn't going to "give" anybody such a philatelic treasure. The stamps were precious to Tog, all right -- not as a commercial venture, but as a family heirloom.

It was December by the time Tog's first letter had reached me. My story appeared Christmas week, 1976.

One reader took great interest. He was a postal worker who knew first-hand Tog's frustration of trying to deal with the inflexible postmaster and he was in a position to help.

Late one December night, Tog's July 4th celebration became a Christmas present from an anonymous friend -- the date of Lansing's postal cancellation machine was momentarily changed and eight Michigan Bicentennial stamps were immortalized.

Tog was so protective of his benefactor that it was two summers later before he told me the details, over dinner at the Tognazzini's.

That day, Tog had given me a two-hour personal tour of Hearst's magnificent castle, including some rooms (and hidden places) the public never sees.

But the real treat was Tog himself. I dined not only on delicious home-grown vegetables and fresh fish from one of their son's commercial boats, but also on the wisdom, charm and wit of this remarkable man.

I hadn't spoken or written to Tog in years. But he was genuinely delighted to get my call the other day.

He told me he still has all eight stamp sets since each of his children has asked him to hang onto them for safe keeping. They may have them anytime, Tog said, but perhaps they regard the stamps as a legacy. bands -- he on piano; she on baritone sax.

"One of the most exciting things I'm doing grew out of playing music at a local convalescent home," said Tog. "Some of the people flattered me by saying how much they enjoyed my visits because I gave them a chance to talk about themselves.

"So I decided to start a program -- Reminiscing With Tog.' These people are a generation or so beyond me and it's fascinating to hear them talk of turn-of-the-century toys and home remedies and food -- what day-to-day life was like."

No fanfare, no fireworks, no slick speeches.

Just a bunch of Americans celebrating life. Quietly.