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Walter Day depicts locals on trading cards

Walter Day holds a pair of his framed trading cards.
Walter Day holds a pair of his framed trading cards.
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More than a dozen people from Fairfield have been immortalized by Walter Day in his latest round of trading cards.

Day, a Fairfield man best known as the founder of the Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, has become a curator of Fairfield’s history and those who have contributed to its civic life. He has done that by creating trading cards that, just like their baseball forebears, contain a picture and accompanying text about a person or place.

His latest creations will be on display during an awards ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Festival Hall in the Argiro Student Center on the campus of Maharishi University of Management. It will be the first in what Day promises will be an annual trading card ceremony in Fairfield. Fourteen local residents will be honored from the world of art, education, business and administration. Two of them have passed away, and they are computer science expert Fred Rosenberg and M.U.M. film professor Gurdy Leete.

The others are: Dick DeAngelis, J. Sophia Woodward, Jeffrey Hedquist, Suzanne B. Stryker, Alexandria Luna Pinder, Ashia Fredeen, Nora Mylett, Andy Hallman, Cielle Kollander, Nesha Skarbek and Pamela Lander, plus one surprise card of a person who does not know they are being recognized. Those whom Day honored in an early round were not considered for inclusion.

Cake, ice cream, cookies, chips and drinks will be served. The event is free and open to the public.

Each attendee will receive a framed and enlarged version of their card complete with the time and date of the ceremony, signatures of local dignitaries, Day’s official seal, the words “Fairfield’s 1st Annual Trading Card Award Ceremonies” and the logo of the sponsor.

The top of the framed cards reads “A gift to the people of Fairfield from Color Switch.” Color Switch is the name of a company and a video game created by game designer David Reichelt, who met Day at a retro gaming convention months ago and who is sponsoring not just the framed cards but also helping to fund a 70th birthday party for Day next week in California.

How to celebrate a birthday

Day explained that he’s holding the trading card ceremony Tuesday to coincide with his birthday.

“I looked at it as a moment to celebrate what life is all about, which is honoring other people,” he said.

But Tuesday’s party is not his only bash. Just two days later, Day will fly to Los Angeles where he will attend a science fiction convention called the Nebula Awards that Saturday, May 18. The Nebula Awards are honors bestowed on the best science fiction writers by other writers in the genre. Day is attending because he created a trading card for an author being recognized, William Gibson, famous for his novel “Neuromancer.”

Later that same day, Day will travel to Banning, California (east of Los Angeles), for another fiesta at the Museum of Pinball. A portion of the museum is dedicated to Day’s trading cards.

Flying around the country to present large trading cards is something Day has done several times. He gave one to the founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell, during a ceremony at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Locally, he created a card for John Wayne, which he presented to the mayor of Winterset, Iowa, Wayne’s hometown. He did the same for Bill Lear, founder of the Lear Jet Corporation; novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, famous for “House of the Seven Gables;” actor Walter Brennan, famous for his role in Westerns; science fiction author Robert Heinlein; composer Scott Joplin, and more.

Later this year, Day will unveil a card commemorating the 100th birthday of the character Zorro, created by American writer Johnston McCulley. Day will present the card in McCulley’s hometown of Ottawa, Illinois.

Debt of gratitude

Reichelt, who lives in Simi Valley, California, told The Ledger that he plans to attend Tuesday’s trading card ceremony in Fairfield. Reichelt’s game Color Switch has been a big hit since it debuted in 2015. It has been downloaded 250 million times. Reichelt said he feels a sense of gratitude to Day and others like him who paved the way for today’s video game industry.

“I always like to say that we depend on people we’ll never meet, people who developed this industry from nothing in the 1970s,” Reichelt said. “We should be aware that none of us would be doing this without that history, so it’s good to acknowledge it and appreciate it.”

Day has appeared in about 20 documentaries as himself, among the most famous of which is “The King of Kong,” about two men vying for the high score of the game Donkey Kong. Day figures prominently in the documentary, since Twin Galaxies is the official keeper of high scores.

“The Walter you see in the documentary comes off as a caring individual who puts all his time into this industry and into other people,” Reichelt said. “I know that reality TV is not real, and when I watch a documentary, I assume the same, but Walter really is like that. He’s a very warm and kind individual, and makes you feel welcome as soon as you meet him.”

Why make cards?

Though Day sometimes solicits donations and sponsorships to cover his costs, he does not expect to profit off the cards.

“I use trading cards to honor people, celebrate history and provide historical education,” he said.

Day supports himself as a landlord. The cards are just a fun project he picked up in retirement.

Day has designed more than 3,500 cards, and given them away at 87 ceremonies since he began making them in February 2011. He performs all the tasks associated with a card’s design, from soliciting photos and information about the people profiled, to writing the text on the back of the card, to creating its graphic elements. Trading card companies don’t know how he does it.

“I’m doing something that would take a staff of eight people,” said Day, who estimated a trading card company would have spent a few million dollars on labor to achieve what he’s done.

History of the cards

Day’s initial interest in trading cards grew out of his desire to recognize the movers and shakers in the world he knows best: arcade. His first round of cards depicted video game and pinball legends. This was fitting since his arcade, Twin Galaxies, earned notoriety as the official scoreboard of games like Frogger, Missile Command, Pac-Man and many more.

After that first round, Day published an assortment of science fiction-themed cards, then a round of history cards. He created a series dedicated to Fairfield as the “Renaissance capital of the world.” This included the town’s famous people and its historic landmarks. Day moved onto biographies in his following series. He profiled people such as George Washington, Queen Elizabeth II and TV and radio personality Art Linkletter.

“I try to find people who have influenced our culture,” he said.

His next set will be commemorating important dates called “This day in history.”

Day chose the 14 people being honored at Tuesday’s award ceremony, but that will change in 2020. Next year’s honorees will be selected by popular vote.

“Everybody in the community can join in the fun and vote for next year’s cards, because we want to use the cards to tell the story of our community,” Day said.