LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Many people across the world enjoy collecting items. Laramie resident Milton Ontiveroz has a collection that’s almost as unique and funny as the man himself.
For the last 23 years, Ontiveroz, a communications specialist at the University of Wyoming, has been collecting pencil sharpeners. Not electric pencil sharpeners, nor the turn-crank variety that ate pencils for generations in public schools, but handheld ones that are easily mistaken for toys.
“People don’t realize they’re pencil sharpeners,” Ontiveroz said. “People that stop by my office always say, ‘Nice toy collection,’ and then when I tell them they’re pencil sharpeners, they act surprised. But they pick them up and look and, sure enough, you can see where the pencils are supposed to be inserted.”
But make no mistake - Ontiveroz won’t let you use the pencil sharpeners for their intended purpose.
“I’ll have you know I won’t let anybody sharpen their pencils,” he said. “I’ve had coworkers ask me, and I say, ‘No, you cannot - go to the copier room and use the electric one we have in there.’”
Because for Ontiveroz and his 228 pencil sharpeners, the collection is all about the fun. The metal and plastic pieces take the form of everything from military jeeps and planes to busts of former presidents and monuments. Ontiveroz said they aren’t really worth much - most pieces sell online for about $2-$6.
The appeal, he said, really comes down to it just being funny and unique.
“It just goes along with my personality, like (being) a fun person or a jokester,” he said.
Co-worker Chad Baldwin said he wasn’t aware of the pencil sharpener collection, but he wasn’t surprised.
“Milton has diverse interests and areas of expertise,” Baldwin said. “He’s a renaissance man.”
Similar to the effect his pencil sharpeners have on people, Baldwin said Ontiveroz tends to brighten others’ days.
“Everybody who knows Milton loves the guy,” Baldwin said. “He’s very much about relationships with people and finding humor in everyday life and enjoying life.”
The pencil sharpeners come from nine countries and 16 states across the nation. While he said he still looks for new additions to the collection himself, many of Ontiveroz’s pieces are gifts from friends and family.
“As I started collecting these, family and friends heard about it,” he said. “So, whenever they traveled, if they remembered, they’d bring some back and give them to me. I used to have an inventory list so they wouldn’t duplicate my collection.”
Having a friend give him a pencil sharpener is how the whole thing started back in 1993 when Ontiveroz was a reporter at the Powell Tribune, he said.
“One of my coworkers was going to Las Vegas, and when he was going out the door for his vacation, I told him to bring me back a souvenir,” Ontiveroz said. “I figured he was going to bring me back half his winnings from black jack or the poker tables. But instead, he brought me back the first pencil sharpener I got - a little slot machine.”
The tiny, cheap plastic souvenir struck a chord with Ontiveroz, he said. Next, his wife, Liz, found the second piece of the collection in a small plastic pencil sharpener made to look like a Dairy Gold Milk carton. After that, Ontiveroz said the ball started rolling.
“It just started kind of like a joke, but then I got hooked on them because they’re just so unique looking,” he said.
Truck stops, gift shops and flea markets all started yielding pencil sharpeners that built the collection. Even a South American street vendor helped him add a considerable number of pieces unique to ones he already had, Ontiveroz said. His son, Austin, was in Buenos Aires studying Spanish for six months. When he completed his program, the Ontiveroz family met up with him for a vacation.
“We hit a lot of open markets to buy things, and low and behold, one of the places had a couple of pencil sharpeners,” Ontiveroz said. “My son called me over, and he said, ‘Do you have these in your collection?’ And I said ‘Oh yeah, sure, I have all those already.’ The proprietor of the table asked us if we were interested in those . and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he went to his storage area behind his table and pulled out a whole bag of them. He must have had 50, and I found some I didn’t have in my collection. I bought 10 of them.”
Of all his pencil sharpeners, Ontiveroz said his favorite is a nose where the pencil is inserted into the nostril. It’s his favorite not just because he thinks it’s a great gag, but because of the source, Ontiveroz said.
“When my kids were younger, they got this for me on Father’s Day,” he said. “I opened it up and it cracked me up.”
All three of his children, Alexis, Aaron and Austin, contributed to the growing collection, Ontiveroz said. The nose sharpener - which came from Bart’s Flea Market in Laramie - was meaningful because it showed that his children understood his sense of humor, he said.
“They know my personality and my sense of humor, and they nailed it,” Ontiveroz said. “They knew I’d enjoy that.”
Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com
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