When it came time to draw names for annual gift exchanges, Todd Coon’s siblings desperately wanted his.
One trip to Toys R Us or the local shop down the street, and pretty much anything on the shelves would do.
His basement office today is a veritable shrine to gifts, trinkets and items he’s received over the years, as well as stuff he’s collected to bolster them.
The U-M Museum of Natural History it isn’t, but his collection of knives, swords and other items are conversation starters for anyone who views them.
“I have a lot of stuff,” he said. “It’s kind of an eclectic mix. I get bored pretty easily, so I end up with a lot of hobbies. I’m like a big 12-year-old.”
Coon, supervisor for the Procurement Services technology team since July, previously served as supervisor for the Procurement Services general goods and services team. In many ways, his collection at home is much like his role with that group.
“We managed the travel for the university, food suppliers, bought bullets for (the Division of Public Safety and Security), championship rings for sports teams, all the kitchen equipment on campus,” he said. “Just a very broad group of stuff.”
At home, he calls his most prized possession a rapier that was a gift from his wife, Laura, the first Christmas after they bought their first house together nearly 30 years ago.
It’s a left-handed weapon encased in plastic, made by a friend who owns a plastics company. It also helped launch his collection of knives and swords that numbers around five dozen.
The entire collection, which includes three katanas that are replicas from the movie “Highlander,” is proudly displayed on the walls of his basement office in Ypsilanti.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Coon to work from that office, he had to move from behind him a pair of bayonets and rifles that hung on the walls because they distracted attendees during online meetings who were curious to know more about them.
“I kind of look at this stuff like artwork to me,” said Coon, who studied art as an undergraduate student at Eastern Michigan University. “You look at how it’s made, what it looks like. There’s a lot of uniqueness to some of these things, especially the knives. They’re very interesting to me because they can take on all kinds of different shapes and sizes and forms.”
A history buff — his major at EMU was history — Coon counts among his collection two rifles from the Spanish-American War bequeathed to him by a grandfather and steins his other grandfather gifted him.
Many of his knives are replicas, obtained from Museum Replicas in Atlanta, which re-creates historical weaponry. He’ll also scour antique shops for items of intrigue, but when people find out he collects items, they are more than willing to participate.
“People will just bring me stuff,” he said. “I ended up with a collection of gargoyles because of that.”
One of his first jobs after graduating from EMU was procurement manager at a Borders Books store, and his supervisor would jokingly chastise him for not having any objects on his desk.
“I was at the mall one day, saw this little gargoyle figure, bought it and threw it on my desk thinking it would be funny,” he said. “Then all of a sudden people started buying me gargoyles, so I probably have about 20 or 30 gargoyles.”
That’s paltry compared to the amount of Captain America memorabilia he has accumulated. He has dozens of figures, several posters and a full-size shield that pre-dates the Marvel Universe era.
His Captain America collection includes items from the 1960s to present day, including a Marvel Superhero baseball jersey, worn by a Lansing Lugnuts player, that his daughter’s boyfriend gave him.
“Captain America fascinated me as a kid, and as I got older, people started buying me stuff,” he said. “(The knife and sword collection) is entertaining, and you’ve always got something to chat about with people. Most people find it interesting. If not that, the superhero stuff seems to be the kind of thing you can chat about.”
One of his more unique items is a prototype stuffed eagle mascot from when EMU transitioned from the Hurons to the Eagles in the early 1990s. He was merchandise manager at the bookstore and worked with a company to convert a stuffed animal into what was to be a replica of the university’s new Swoop mascot.
“The one thing that got messed up is Swoop is supposed to be a golden eagle, so when we started doing this, it was all brown,” he said. “When they bought the costume for the football games, they bought an eagle with a white head, so we had to start over.”
The brown Swoop prototype in Coon’s possession is one of only two in existence.
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When he’s not adding to his collection of “eye candy,” Coon spends much of his time coaching. He’s coached fastpitch softball for more than 20 years, and helped coach the U-M Fencing Club when he first started working for Student Life in 2007. Coon competed with the EMU fencing club for four years after being recruited out of a physical education class.
“When I started working at U-M, I found out my old coach at Eastern was the head coach at U-M, so I went to say hi and ended up helping him coach for seven years,” he said.
He turned his focus to softball as his daughters, Samantha and Taylor, took to the sport. Taylor, who is studying pre-pharmacy and plays club softball at EMU, helps Coon coach the Saline High School junior varsity team and a 15U travel team.
Coaching dovetails nicely into his role supervising the Procurement Services technology team.
“I like working with people. It’s like being a manager or a supervisor, you look for ways to help people improve and succeed,” he said. “In both cases you have a responsibility to those folks to kind of make sure they’re headed in the right direction, especially with the younger kids. I look at it as a privilege, and I tell the parents every year it’s a privilege to coach and I do appreciate it.”