JOLIET – When Art Mackay walked into the Joliet Goodwill store two years ago, it was because his wife JoAnne wanted to look at sweaters. The last thing he expected to walk out with was a bag of toys.
But Mackay recalled seeing a pull toy, a little dog he thought was cute. So he bought it, along with several others. When his wife asked him what he was going to do with the toys, Mackay said he wasn’t sure.
But he did know one thing.
“For 99 cents or so, you can’t go wrong,” Mackay said.
Since then, Mackay, now 87, has made numerous trips back to Goodwill, each time leaving with more toys. About half the toys just need new batteries. Some have loose wires – generally an easy fix. Once Mackay fixes them, he donates them.
Mackay admits a few are not fixable and must be scrapped, but not before Mackay salvages any usable parts – microphones, connections, speakers and switches. He only brings home battery-operated toys.
“They intrigue me,” Mackay said. “They’re easy to work with, and I can quickly determine what’s wrong.”
One place Mackay has donated toys is Grace Child Care Center in Joliet. Director Tina Mason said Mackay has shown up several times with half a dozen toys each time. This helps out the center, which doesn’t have a toy budget.
“Kids always like new stuff and it gives us something else to rotate in and out for them,” Mason said. “The kids love anything that makes noise.”
Working with children
Children have always been important to Mackay. He spent 32 years working for Joliet Public Schools District 86 – 25 years teaching and another seven in administration, Mackay said.
From 1972 to 1976, Mackay was principal at the former Eisenhower Elementary School, now known as Eisenhower Academy, said Sandy Zalewski, communications and development coordinator for District 86.
And yes, Mackay even brought some toys to Eisenhower.
“It was very thoughtful of him,” Zalewski said.
If teaching was Mackay’s vocation, music was his avocation. Mackay has played the accordion since he was 12 years old. For 25 years, his band, Melody Men, played weddings, anniversaries, church functions and various other events. Later, Mackay performed with a group called the Old Timers.
“We did vaudeville-type shows at nursing homes,” Mackay said.
When he married JoAnne, a classical accordionist, Mackay taught her to play dance music, and they played some events together. Nowadays, Mackay plays mostly for his own enjoyment. The accordion, Mackay said, is “getting heavier all the time.”
Needing something to do
With time on his hands, Mackay said he needed something to do. Repairing toys filled that void. Mackay spends three to four hours a day working on them. He’s tinkering with a talking truck that won’t stop talking even when Mackay switches it off.
“That’s going to run the battery down,” Mackay said.
Because most of the toys Mackay buys require batteries, he first cleans, tests and often recharges those. He tried asking several companies to donate batteries until one finally did.
Rarely does Mackay keep the toys, but he laughingly recalled one instance where he did, all because of JoAnne.
She liked a particular battery-operated cat that played music and followed a person around. So Mackay fixed it for her – and then gave it away to a little girl he thought was a perfect match for the toy.
Mackay then surprised JoAnne with a version of the same toy for Christmas. Since then, Mackay has acquired and repaired three more cats – and he has brought home a mystery toy Mackay is certain one lucky little girl will love.
“It’s got Snow White and Cinderella on it. It’s pink, and when you open it up, it looks like a typewriter,” Mackay said, “I don’t know what it does yet because I haven’t heard it play, but it’s a neat little thing – the best one yet, if I can get it to work. And it only cost $1.99.”