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They're nuts about squirrels

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By April Wright, Reporter

As Charles and Ruth Frangos walk through their home, Charles reaches over to turn on the light switch embraced by a squirrel cover and points out a squirrelly museum of figurines.

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In a collection worth thousands of dollars, taxidermy squirrels deck the walls, crystal figurines stack the shelves of a curio cabinet, squirrel pictures adorn the walls of the kitchen and more than 300 stuffed, ceramic, porcelain and plastic squirrels cram the two six-foot bookshelves in the living room.

With more than 800 squirrel figurines, pictures and pieces of jewelry, it’s safe to say that the Galax couple is nuts about squirrels.

“When people visit, they’re always amazed by the collection we have,” said Ruth. “But they always say they could never dust my house. That's the most familiar comment we get.”

The bushy-tailed critters are everywhere. There are albino squirrels, brass squirrels, squirrel napkin holders, squirrel card holders, squirrel clocks, squirrel salt and pepper shakers, squirrel candle holders, squirrel lamps, squirrel-painted dinner plates and sea shells and even a squirrel Christmas village.

The Frangoses' squirrelly fascination started in 1968 when the couple lived in Charleston, S.C.

When Ruth and Charles purchased their home in Charleston, two squirrels — a friendly one and a shy one — would roam the backyard.

Charles would set peanuts out on the walkway to see if the animals would come to them. As they watched, the squirrels would run down the trees and grab the peanuts off the walkway.

Soon after, the Frangoses were feeding the squirrels out their hands.

One day, when Charles didn’t place the peanuts outside for the squirrels, he noticed that the peanuts on the washer in the garage were missing. Apparently, the squirrels were coming in the garage, jumping onto the washer, grabbing the nuts and taking them outside to eat, Charles said with a laugh.

Charles begun to notice the strange instincts of the animals. When Charles didn’t feed the squirrels, they would scratch at the garage door until he opened it and gave them nuts.

After that, the squirrels begun making themselves at home, coming into the garage each day for Charles to feed them.

That's how Charles and Ruth developed a fondness for the creatures.

“We got a kick out of watching the squirrels,” said Charles. “They’re just a fascinating animal to watch as they jump from limb to limb.”

“They’re the cutest little animal I know of,” said Ruth, who used to watch them carry off the tomatoes in her garden.

After going to a ceramics workshop with her neighbor, Ruth used molds to create a squirrel for almost everyone in her family.

And that was just the beginning.

When they moved to Galax in 1990, their collection took off. They shopped at antique stores, went to festivals and received them as gifts from their four children.

However, since they’ve moved to Galax, the squirrels are reluctant to eat out of the palms of Ruth and Charles.

“They’re not as tame as the ones in Charleston,” said Charles. “I thought we’d get some, but we can’t, and if you leave nuts outside, the blue jays get to them first.”

Charles and Ruth have never met anyone else that has a squirrel collection as big as theirs.

“The collection just kind of crept up on us,” said Charles, who has helped Ruth gather squirrels for 20 years. “There’s already no room for them, and I’ve had to build shelves just to display them.”

The squirrels have taken over the house, leaving room for very few Christmas decorations and a small Christmas tree covered in — you guessed it — squirrel ornaments.

Charles, who is retired from the Marine Corps, is proud of it — just as much as he is of his Garfield collection, which only takes up a small section of the home.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Ruth, a retired substitute teacher and homemaker.

Each time the Frangoses head out on long-distance travels — Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, New England and other areas — they always seem to add a unique squirrel to their bizarre collection.

There are so many, ranging in price from 50¢ to $400, it takes them nearly four hours to dust the collection. And out the 800-plus collection, there are only three duplications.

“We didn’t buy every one we saw,” said Ruth. “We’ve turned down a few ugly ones, and sometimes when we went on trips, we never went with the intent to buy them.”

With Ruth in ill health, the Frangoses said they just don’t have time or space for squirrel collecting anymore and don’t plan to collect many more.

Besides collecting squirrels, the retired Galax couple spends time reading, traveling and watching squirrels jump from limb to limb.

“It has been a fun hobby for me over the years,” said Ruth. “We’ve spent many, many hours shopping for squirrels.”