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'Oz' munchkin was local man's relative

Last month, Meinhardt Raabepassed on after 94 years.

Mr. Raabe had one definitive moment in his years that left him idolized by thousands. He played the role of the coroner Munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz." The thing I think is interesting about someone such as Mr. Raabe is how his whole life changed after that movie. The film was not only a job, but in all the years since, he has appeared at "Wizard of Oz" conventions and celebrations — in essence, a new career.

After Meinhardt died April 9, I heard him referred to as the last surviving Munchkin, which caused me to prick up my ears. That wasn't quite right. He was the last Munchkin with a line in the movie, but MY Munchkin is still alive. That would be Jerry Maren, one of the Lollipop Kids from the film.

I met Jerry a few years back when he and his wife came to town for Rochesterfest and a ride in the "Wizard of Oz" replica hot air balloon. He stopped by KROC to chat about his career and stories from his life. I mentioned that I was fascinated by the fact that this one movie changed the course of his life. He saw it a bit differently, noting that he was lucky enough to have that as an obvious, major point in his life, while most people don't.

After a whole life of people looking back to that one film, you might expect the actor to have a love-hate relationship with the event that brought him fame, but Jerry never came across that way. He seemed to still be genuinely grateful for the movie that "put him on the map."

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Although I may have spoken too soon, he is in a new film slated for this year. Will "Dahmer vs. Gacy" surpass "The Wizard of Oz"? Time will tell.

Scot Schwarkof Rochester adds another chapter in the Meinhardt Raabe story.

After I wrote this blog, I found out about Scot. He is a lifelong "Wizard of Oz" fan — or possibly fanatic — who found out he was related to Mr. Raabe.

Scot was talking with his family about the movie when his mom told him they were related to one of the Munchkins. "She didn’t know who it was or which one it was," Scot said, but he set out to learn more.

An aunt filled in some of the blanks when she told him that Raabe was the cousin of Scot’s grandfather. Scot got the chance to visit with his famous relative on two occasions, learning more about him and getting an autographed copy of Raabe’s book, "Memories of a Munchkin," back in 2006.

Scot is not the only person who loves "The Wizard of Oz" to be sure, but I wondered what it was that makes him such a fan. "I’ve always loved the message, ‘There’s no place like home,’ that Dorothy learns at the end of the film," he said. "She doesn’t have to look any farther than that."

So pop some popcorn — sounds like a good reason to watch Dorothy and her pals tonight!

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