PEZ collector extraordinaire and winner of the coveted Golden Gonzo, Cheryl Gardner-Ghionzoli is helping host the Pez on the River convention in Winona next weekend.
by ALEXANDRA RETTER
As the Mississippi flows by Winona this weekend, Pez enthusiasts will stream into town for the convention Pez on the River. Members of the greater Winona community can experience a part of the convention by attending a free showing of Pez collectibles and a silent auction.
The free showing of Pez collectibles and the silent auction will take place on Saturday, October 12, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Riverport Inn on Bruski Drive, Cheryl Gardner-Ghionzoli, a co-host of Pez on the River, said.
“We have Pez dealers coming in for our convention from all over the country, bringing their wares,” Gardner-Ghionzoli stated. “They set up in the ballroom, kind of like when you walk into a craft fair where there are vendors. Dealers all have their own tables … so there’s quite a variety of things that people can look at, as well as [purchase], if they’re interested in purchasing.”
The silent auction will run while the show takes place, Gardner-Ghionzoli explained, and feature Pez-related items from clothing to paper products to jewelry. The silent auction will also benefit Home and Community Options, Inc., a non-profit organization in Winona that provides support services to people with disabilities (and at which Gardner-Ghionzoli works).
Other parts of the convention are open to those who registered ahead of time, Gardner-Ghionzoli said. These parts of the convention include a barbecue, a scavenger hunt, a live auction and a costume contest.
There is a different theme for the convention each year that it is held, and the theme is incorporated in the costume contest, Gardner-Ghionzoli stated. For the costume content, convention attendees dress up their Pez dispensers in a way that aligns with the convention’s theme. This year’s theme is “All Caged Up.”
“[The costume content] has actually started turning into these dioramas people bring. Some of them have just been out of this world,” Gardner-Ghionzoli said. “Everyone that’s part of the convention votes on which costume they think is the best. We have first, second and third place prizes. It’s really started to become a competition for people. One of our loyal friends and guests of Pez on the River started working on his back in the winter.”
Another part of the convention that is open to those who registered ahead of time is room-hopping, Gardner-Ghionzoli shared. To room hop, convention attendees go from hotel room to hotel room after Pez dealers set their collectibles up in their rooms and leave their doors open so the collectibles can be seen.
Winonan Todd Hanson said he is happy to have Pez on the River take place in Winona, as he attended a Pez convention in Minnesota every year when he was in high school, and that particular convention is no longer held.
“It’s a really good time for a great cause and even the uninitiated will end up having lots of fun,” Hanson said. “The convention itself showcases many dealers and their Pez, along with weird events and contests. But my favorite part is getting to room hop in the hotel and meet all kinds of eccentric characters who open their doors to welcome all.”
This year marks the sixth time the convention has been held, Gardner-Ghionzoli said. Around 60 to 90 people usually register for the convention. Some come from as far away as states like Utah and California, and some return to the convention year after year.
Gardner-Ghionzoli explained that Pez on the River began when a Pez convention that she and her wife, Sandy Gardner-Ghionzoli (who is a co-host of Pez on the River), used to attend in Minnesota was no longer held, meaning the next closest convention was in Cleveland, Ohio.
“We decided we would look at putting together a convention that we could host in the Midwest [near Minnesota], because there are a lot of people from the Midwest [near Minnesota] who are collectors as well,” Gardner-Ghionzoli said. “Our first year was our maiden voyage, as we called it, and we named it Pez on the River because we’re right on the Mississippi.”
For their efforts to inspire people to become Pez collectors, Gardner-Ghionzoli and her wife received an award this year at Pezamania, a large Pez convention held annually in Ohio, she said. The award is called the Golden Gonzo.
“It was a big surprise for us, because some of the names that are on that list are just really popular in the Pez community,” Gardner-Ghionzoli said. “It was very humbling.”
Gardner-Ghionzoli stated that she and her wife have been collecting Pez dispensers for over 25 years and have upwards of 2, 500 in their collection.
“They’re cute. They’re fun. They keep coming out with different things,” Gardner-Ghionzoli said. “And the hunt is the fun part … we call it finding them in the wild, because you never know where they’re going to turn up.”
Gardner-Ghionzoli said it’s “kind of like a reunion” each time she and her wife go to a convention, adding that the theme of Pez on the River last year was “Family Reunion.”
“All the people I’ve met at conventions, they’re just the nicest people,” Gardner-Ghionzoli said. “They will help you out, give you directions, carry stuff, visit with you, answer your questions; they’re just very people-oriented.”
Those interested in registering for next year’s Pez on the River convention can keep an eye out for registration forms on Pez on the River’s website, pezontheriver.com, Gardner-Ghionzoli shared. Pez on the River also has a Facebook page.