SMALL TOWNS: New Franken man’s ultimate beer can collection

A Brown County man has been collecting cans for 25 years, since he was 65
Updated: Nov. 3, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Many people have a hobby, and for some it’s discovered later in life.

A Brown County man was 65-years-old when he started collecting beer cans 25 years ago, and he hasn’t stopped.

This week in Small Towns, we travel to New Franken to see thousands of cans of beer on the wall.

Leland Baenen is quite proud of his ever-growing collection.

“Oh yes, a lot of time put in here, a lot of time,” says Leland.

Born and raised in New Franken, Leland took over his father’s dairy farm.

Then, after selling to his son in 1996, he built a home on nearby family property.

In the ceiling of his new basement, he placed a small collection of beer cans started by his son.

“But who wants to sit there and look with their neck up there, my neck would get sore so, so I started,” recalls Leland.

He started to collect, and it was full steam ahead.

“Like any habit it gets out of control, same as anybody else, anything you do, there’s no end to it,” says Leland with a chuckle.

And there’s no place, Leland wouldn’t search to add another can.

“I think the most I ever paid was about $15,” says Leland of his most expensive purchase for a single can.

He discovered grocery stores, antique shops, flea markets and estate sales all offered potential treasures.

“Estates are the best because then people sell what was a treasure to them, rummage sales they sell what they want to get rid of,” explains Leland.

Within a year, Leland realized he’d better start collecting some lumber.

“Way over half a mile of shelving in here, that’s a long board, it took me a couple years, different times designing it, I’d do it one way and I didn’t like it, I’d change it and have to design it my way and it ended up this way,” says Leland.

With his basement becoming a beer can museum, Leland joined the Beer Can Collectors of America.

The club recently renamed itself the Brewery Collectibles Club of America.

“Then we have a local club, it’s the Packer chapter of the Six Pack Club and we have a little over 200 members the last time I looked, it changes all the time,” says Leland.

In recent years, Leland has added decanters, beer mugs and steins, shot glasses and coffee mugs to his collection.

But his pride and joy are the beer cans, arranged by brand and history, by country crafted, or some other unique theme.

“See each one of these are different ski resorts I bought at a convention in St. Louis, somebody had them all put together,” explains Leland.

At last count, Leland’s beer can collection tops 9,000.

Total items on display: more than 15,000.

Just a few months ago, on his 90th birthday, he hosted an open house for the community to see what he’s been up to for the past quarter century.

“We had pretty near 200 people come. They were all surprised, they couldn’t believe it, how nice it was, they really enjoyed it,” says Leland.

In case you’re wondering, Leland pours out every can before it goes on the shelf.

“They rust out you know, and they’re heavy which doesn’t mean anything, but they rust out with beer in it, then you got a mess,” says Leland from experience.

And only a few times over the years can Leland recall pouring himself a few too many.

“Oh yeah, couple times plenty, couple times enough, I won’t tell you about the rest of the times,” jokes Leland.

And what about a favorite beer?

Out of all these options, there has to be one, right?

“Yeah I have a favorite kind, cold and free,” says Leland with a smile.

Leland says he’ll never sell his collection and his hope is one of his grandkids will take it over and grow it one day when he’s gone.

If not, he says his family will have a truck-full to recycle.

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