Community Reflects on Historic Million Penny Parade

By: Liz Hayes Email
By: Liz Hayes Email

The tiny town of Woodruff, population 400, is known as penny heaven.

The community, with the help of the nation and the world, collected more than one million pennies back in 1953.

It began with a geometry teacher at Arbor-Vitae Woodruff High School.

In the fall of 1952, Kathy Patten's dad, Otto Burich, wanted to get his students excited about something.

"They decided it would be fun to collect a million of something," Patten said.

Burich, an avid coin collector, decided pennies would be perfect. And the money raised would help fund Woodruff's new hospital, which would honor Dr. Kate Newcomb, the area's pioneer female doctor.

"It started with the geometry class, 16 students and from there it was almost like a fever that spread. First through the school and then the community, everybody was saving pennies," said Patten.

The students were busy collecting, counting and recording. Soon the newspapers picked up the story.

"It was known throughout the world. My dad was a real promoter. He got out weekly reports to the Associated Press, the United Press."

They hoped to collect enough pennies by summer. And by Memorial Day 1953 they had reached their goal.

The Million Penny Parade celebrated the achievement.

"Actually the million penny parade put Woodruff on the map. Very few people knew where Woodruff was, it was a sleepy town in northern Wisconsin that came to life for three months out of the year."

People continued to send in pennies from all over the world.

Students and volunteers kept counting.

"The mail was coming in by train loads and we just couldn't handle it, so we put an all call out to everybody in the community who could come out to help," Patten said.

The pennies were put on display in the high school gym all summer long.

In the end, the community raised 1.7 million pennies, enough to complete the hospital.

"People still travel to Woodruff to see the world's biggest penny. It was created to commemorate the inspirational million penny parade."

On the 50th anniversary of the original million penny parade, the community started collecting once again.

And remarkably they again raised 1.7 million pennies, which is now used to fund the Dr. Kate Memorial Scholarship.

Pictures, pennies and memorabilia from the original million penny parade can be found at the Dr. Kate Museum in Woodruff.

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