Barbara Koelle (1923-2018) was a lovely woman, thoughtful personal friend, and consistent supporter of the International Wizard of Oz Club. She joined the Club and began attending conventions in the 1960s when they were held in the resort owned by Harry Neal Baum. From convention speaker to Bugle editor to Club President, if there was a job that needed doing, Barbara was a faithful volunteer. She chaired committees and hosted parties. She organized a short-story circle for fiction writers, and amassed a fine Oz/Baum collection. She received the L. Frank Baum Memorial Award in 1977 for her unfailing support of the Oz Club.
Patty Tobias is writing an obituary for Barbara for the Winter 2018 Baum Bugle. Barb’s daughter Kate will be planning a memorial service for her, most likely in early February. (I will edit a link to details as soon as there is one.) I wanted to give Barbara’s circle of Wizard of Oz friends an opportunity to share their own memories of her and reflections on her contributions to the Oz Club, too. Please take advantage of this blog’s comments section to do that.
Personally, Barbara helped me time and again. When I was working on the Oz Centennial convention, she agreed to organize an entire 4-day program of content devoted to literary aspects of Oz. (Others took on programming tracks for stage & screen, collecting, biography, etc.). She was thoughtful in recommending members to serve on the
board of directors. She was a wiser head I could turn to when facing difficult Oz decisions. She sent cards. And she sent clippings; recently, entire files of clippings. Barbara gave me a wonderful little treasure for my collection when I became President, following it with a Scarecrow key chain and question about existence of my brain (tongue firmly in cheek).
And memorably, at a Castle Park convention when I was in search of Patty Tobias, who was rooming with her, Barbara opened the door late at night with her hair down. Forty-five years seeing her signature French twist, you’d better believe that moment stands out!
With her late husband John, Barbara attended Oz, The National Convention 2012 in Michigan. She was frail, but she greatly enjoyed time we spent together while I showed her images on my laptop that recounted convention history. She also joined us for a bit in Philadelphia (Oz, The National Convention 2016) where she drew friends around her like a magnet; our cluster reminisced about our shared past. She’d written a Bugle essay, “The Boys of Philadelphia,” for the occasion.
I’m sure I’ll think of other memories that matter to me, but for the moment I just wanted to get this blog posted so others would have the opportunity to share their stories about Barbara. Please do. I’m sure both friends who knew her and curious others who weren’t so fortunate will appreciate hearing your memories.
To conclude, here’s a bit from Barbara in her own words that I wanted to share. She contributed it to the 2017 Oz Club Calendar when I asked her to reflect on her season as Editor of the Baum Bugle:
I took over as The Baum Bugle Editor-in-Chief for the Fall 1979 issue, after a rather casual invitation from the late James P. Haff. Though I didn’t know what I was getting into, I was fortunate in having John Fricke fill the first issue with his trail-blazing articles on the M-G-M movie. My production editor, Patty Tobias (later Dan and Lynn Smith), put the journal together and introduced me to computer-generated proof-reading. And the Contributing and Consulting Editors provided invaluable material and advice.
Once launched, I began to enjoy reading the amazingly varied material submitted to The Bugle–-material ranging from the scholarly through the entertaining to the frankly frivolous. I liked an inclusive approach, and on one occasion published two widely differing reviews of Philip Jose Farmer’s A Barnstormer in Oz. A critique of L. Frank Baum’s use of ethnic stereotypes proved controversial among some Club members. I introduced a “Commentary” section, and printed some original stories and poems. Among these were Fred M. Meyer’s “Scraps and the Magic Box,” “The Invisible Inzi of Oz” by Virginia and Robert Wauchope (first appearing in 1926), and Ruth Berman’s tribute, “A Map for Ruth Plumly Thompson.” The latter appeared in an issue devoted to Thompson and featured material by three of her personal friends: artist Marge (“Little Lulu”), author Daniel P. Mannix, and the Bugle’s review editor, Douglas G. Greene.
In those days The Baum Bugle was slimmer and color was restricted to the covers. But then, as now, it reflected the knowledge and enthusiasm of its editors, contributors and readers, building on the dedication of its original staff. It is truly a group effort and I am proud to have been part of it.