The key (chain) to a great collection

By Jef Rietsma

Collector? Michael Coppens.

Collection? Keychains.

How did your collection start? “I was a driver for Indian Trails (bus line) and starting in the early 1980s, we were contracted for several years to transport Western Michigan University’s sports teams. I had the pleasure of being requested by volleyball, softball, baseball, hockey and women’s basketball coaches. My keychain collection started as an accident. I originally started collecting T-shirts and I still have some, but it didn’t take me long to realize space was going to be a real issue. So I shifted my focus on something a little smaller.”

Coppens said he drove WMU teams from the mid-1980s until his retirement from Indian Trails in 2013.

Do you remember which keychain was the first in your collection? “I do not. But I can say that with just a few exceptions, I purchased the keychains at the campus bookstore of whatever school where Western was playing. College bookstores are really neat places and obviously very good places for souvenirs.”

Did you set criteria when it came to which key chains you purchased? “I just tried to make sure the keychain reflected the school and athletics. I didn’t want a pine tree saying A&M U because that could have been anywhere. I have one from Virginia Tech, for example, and it has that ‘VT’, like what you’d see on the side of their football helmets. Some bookstores had great key chains, others did not.”

Did you ever run into the problem of visiting a college that did not have a keychain? “Twice, actually. There’s a wonderful little school in upstate New York called St. Lawrence University. I took the hockey team up there, went to the bookstore and they had no key chains. They just didn’t carry key chains there, though I did buy a T-shirt. The same thing happened at Mercyhurst University, a private Catholic school in Erie, Pa. That was another hockey trip and I didn’t take anything out of Mercyhurst. They had lousy T-shirts and no key chains.”

It’s been a few years since you were there. Have you considered looking online at their bookstore now to complete your collection? “I’ve looked around online at some schools but not either of those. That’s a good idea and I may try that just because they were interesting schools, both of them.”

How many keychains are in your collection? “I haven’t counted but I would guess 60. There are a couple duplicates and I have a couple that could be considered collectors’ items now. One is Traverse City Beach Bums, a minor-league baseball team that is no longer in existence. The other is from the Grand Rapids Rampage. They were the indoor football team that Grand Rapids had for several years and they too are no longer in existence.”

Do you have keychains that don’t have to do with sports or colleges? “Not too many, but I have a keychain from the Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado. It is an old-style key and key chain like what hotels would have issued in the 1970s and before. They sold them in the gift shop and I was happy to pick one up.”

Are any keychains more special to you than others? “The schools that I got to that I knew I would never ever return. Colgate University and Penn come to mind. St. Lawrence would have been another but, as I mentioned, they didn’t have any key chains.”

Coppens laughed and then continued.

“We had a weekend trip to Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn. It was with the baseball team and it’s a long, long drive. We got down there on a Thursday night and we were supposed to play three games – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was the end of spring break and the night we got there it started raining. And it kept raining. And it kept raining. There was a pretty good-sized pond in the outfield by gametime Friday, so it was postponed. Saturday was the same thing and Sunday the field was still unplayable. So we drove all that way and never played a game. And I never picked up a key chain from there, which is too bad. It’s a neat little school.”

What state is most represented in your collection? “Michigan, of course.”

Are you aware of anyone else who collects keychains? “No, I’m not. I’m happy with my collection knowing that they are places I have visited personally. Having been to these places makes every key chain special.”

Footnotes: Coppens, who turns 80 later this month, has been to every U.S. state except Hawaii. A Traverse City native, he lives just north of the Vicksburg village limits.

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