LUVERNE, Minn. (WCCO) — If you have no ties to Luverne, Minn., it may be nothing more than a pass-through city on the western edge of Minnesota.

Community leaders are hoping to make it a destination location, and they’re turning to one longtime resident Betty Mann for help.

There’s a saying about women and their love of shoes.

“Every time I travel, I bring home several,” said Betty Mann, while gesturing to her massive shoe collection.

Few ladies can compete with Betty Mann’s collection, which tops 10,000.

“I have all those shoes but none that I can wear,” Mann said.

Betty’s shoes aren’t the kind you wear on your feet, rather miniature glass footwear that she’s been collecting since she was 7 years old.

“I guess you’d call me a collector,” Mann said.

Every cabinet and shelf is filled with shoes making it appear that Betty has no room for any other collectibles.  However, her home used to be filled with a collection of nutcrackers until last July, when she cleaned house.

“I had nine of my children and grandchild come on a Sunday afternoon. It took us 4 hours,” Mann said.

Those four hours only included the time it took to pack.  It took another eight hours to move and unpack more than 2,500 nutcrackers in the Rock County Historical Society’s newest building.

“Part of the reason I gave this to the museum is I used to have people come to my house to see the nutcrackers,” she said.

Betty’s passion for Christmas-themed decorations began 16 years ago, when she purchased her first nutcracker at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. She never realized a gift to herself would snowball beyond her imagination.

“I paid a whole $6 for this and that’s the culprit that started the whole thing,” she said while holding her first nutcracker. “There are no two alike.”

The collection contains classic nutcracker figurines. Betty has an entire case filled with Steinbach nutcrackers from Germany but she also has plenty of variety. Eight foot glass cases are filled with nutcrackers of every shape and size, in every form possible.

She has nutcrackers depicting every occupation, sport, animal and holiday.

“It’s the adrenaline that you get all excited because you found one you don’t have,” Mann said.

The thrill of the hunt may keep Betty in search of the next collectible, but she also gets fulfillment in watching the reaction of people who see her collection for the first time.

“Eyes get huge and they say, oh my, where did you have all of these,” Mann said.

“Nobody goes in there without a smile.  You smile because it makes you feel joyful,” said Jane Lanphere, executive director of the Luverne Area Chamber of Commerce.

For the Luverne community, the interest in Betty’s collection creates an opportunity for a town with a much bigger goal.

“If you have something that can really draw people to the region, that’s an important thing,” Lanphere said.  “You can put that on a billboard and people will come to see it, when you have 2,500 nutcrackers, oh we’ll stop to see.  Whereas, if it would say Rock County Museum there might be a few that are interested but it’s a broader base.”

Betty never set out to create the “Nutcracker Capital of the Midwest” and she has no plans to stop collecting.

“I talked to my board and asked, ‘Do you want me to quit buying’ and they said no, if you want to keep buying you can,” said Betty.

If you want to check out the nutcracker collection, it’s available to that Rock County Historical Society at 312 E Main Street in Luverne, MN.

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