Pair of Minnesotans have passion for Pez dispensers

It's the end of the day at Mora High School and 10th graders are studying math in Jayson Pautzke's geometry class.

But look around the edges of the classroom and Pautzke's fascination with a certain brand of candy dispenser really starts to add up.

"I don't think any other teachers have Pez dispensers in their classroom," said Pautzke.

Pautzke says he started collecting Pez dispensers more than 20 years ago after a student gave him one as a gift.

The next thing he knew, other students started bringing them in for him too and his Pez collection kept getting bigger and bigger.

"I had a student bring one in to me this morning. Last week I had a student bring me one, an Easter one. so they still do it after all these years. And it's now grown to almost 600 in the room," said Pautzke.

Pautzke has Pez dispensers in all shapes and sizes, from superheroes to Star Wars.

Not only are they lined up on top of his whiteboard, they are also on display on a pair of window sills and on a table in the back of the room.

"I just enjoy the dispenser itself and the head that's on each dispenser. It brings me back to my childhood to see a lot of these are characters that I watched growing up as a kid, cartoon characters," said Pautzke.

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Pautzke says there's no rhyme or reason to how he organizes his Pez army.

"I don't consider myself a serious collector or anything in that regard. It's just a fun, little hobby that a lot of the students enjoy too," said Pautzke.

But that's not the case with other Pez Heads as they are called, who categorize their prized possessions with almost military precision.

"I'm very neat, and I like to have them in a certain order, and I'm sure you could analyze that, and it would say a lot about me, but I just own it and then go with it," said Pez collector Andi Arnold.

Arnold has nearly 3000 of them in her basement in Owatonna.

"I would like to think I might be the reigning Pez queen of Minnesota," said Arnold.

Her collection includes rare versions like a bride and groom that were handed out as wedding favors when the Pezident of Pez's niece got married, as well as Mary Poppins, which got recalled because Disney didn't like how it turned out.

"I don't want to be Pezimistic. I'm optimistic I will get them all at some point," said Arnold.

In fact, Arnold says she has every Pez dispenser ever released to the public, except three.

"I just find that I really enjoy sharing this. It brings a lot of joy. It's fun to invite, whether it's kids or adults, to view the collection. It's a great conversation starter and I love seeing people light up," said Arnold.

Speaking of lighting up, the first Pez dispenser actually looked like a lighter because the candies started off as breath mints and were advertised as a way for people to stop smoking. Pez introduced the first full-body-shaped dispensers, a robot, and Santa Claus, in the 1950s, but they were complex and expensive to make.

A witch was the first contraption with the now familiar character head on top of a rectangular base and Pez took off from there.

Now a Netflix documentary called "The Pez Outlaw", which chronicles the bizarre tale of a Michigan Man, who smuggled illegal Pez products into the U.S. from Europe, is giving Pez collecting a second look.

"It's like a whole world of Pez collecting. So there's a lot of us out there, more than people realize, which might be frightening," said Arnold.

Collecting Pez may be a matter of taste.

"No. I don't like Pez candy at all. I think it tastes like chalk," said Arnold.

"I mean the candy. It's just a hard piece of sugar. You don't get it for the candy," said Pautzke.

But diehards say they'll take their love for Pez to the grave.

"Maybe I'll have to tell my wife when my days are done, I want my favorite Pez dispenser with me," said Pautzke.