People And Places

People And Places

Collector remembers journeys in Europe, Asia


Bob Kabanuck doesn’t really consider himself a collector — certainly not in the sense of obsession. The teak wood carvings, temple rubbings, Japanese dishes and metal chopsticks from Korea are memories made tangible for the Springdale man, who will share them Jan. 13 at the Shiloh Museum’s 10th annual “Cabin Fever Reliever” collectors’ day.

From the time he joined the Peace Corps in 1965 until his retirement from the Department of Defense, Kabanuck bought collectibles that helped define the culture and the people he enjoyed in Thailand, Japan, Korea and Germany. He also kept the gifts of friends and colleagues, but he’s not sure to this day of the significance of his most treasured memento, only that he received it instead of the tribal chief’s daughter.

Kabanuck was in a village of the Hmong people during his Peace Corps years in Thailand, when the “village head man” discovered it was his last visit. In Thai, which both the tribal chief and Kabanuck spoke, he asked if Kabanuck would like to marry his daughter.

“I asked my co-worker who spoke English, ‘what do I tell him?’” Kabanuck remembers. “He said, ‘You’ll think of something.’ He was a lot of help!”

Kabanuck thought fast and told the tribal leader that he didn’t think his daughter would be happy in such a different culture and lifestyle in America, an answer that apparently pleased the Hmong father. Kabanuck received the pipe instead, a reminder of the Hmong’s predominant cash crop, opium poppies.

“I still don’t know the significance of the gift,” Kabanuck says, “but I was honored.”

Kabanuck was in Thailand to teach agriculture, a skill he’d learned on his family’s farm in the tiny town of Max, N.D., population 334 in the 2010 census. The northeastern region of the country was “very impoverished,” he says, and his job was to encourage farmers to grow cotton instead of rice. His three months of training didn’t serve him well there, he remembers, although he could read, write and speak Thai. Most of the people in the region spoke Laotian.

“A lot of us complained and were sent back to Bangkok for more training,” he says. “It made it much easier.”

In 1987, Kabanuck moved to Springdale to teach electronics at Northwest Technical Institute, but he was not done with traveling. He soon got “that itch,” he says, and ended up teaching technical education at Yokota Air Base in Japan for five years; at Osan Air Base in South Korea for four years; and at Wiesbaden Air Base in Germany for four years. His collections reflect all those adventures.

“You’re there, and you see something interesting, and you just go ahead and buy it,” he says with a shrug. “A lot of this stuff just happened.”


Cabin Fever Reliever

WHEN — 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Jan. 13

WHERE — Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale

COST — Free

INFO — 750-8165

BONUS — Participants will share collections of buttons, plushies, toy horses, safety razors, dolls, Andrea bird figurines, die-cast cars, hats, paperweights, toy trucks, Victorian knife rests, magnets, Raggedy Ann and Andy toys, Hummel figurines, circus wagon models, Pueblo art and more.


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