Chesterton Tribune

Funeral service for Oz film coroner Meinhardt Raabe

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WATERTOWN, Wis.----Due to overwhelming support and inquiry, the funeral service Tuesday for famed Wizard of Oz star Meinhardt F. Raabe was open to the public.

The funeral was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Farmington, a small rural farming community just east Johnson Creek, Wisconsin where Raabe grew-up. A cremation burial took place immediately after the funeral at the church cemetery.

Meinhardt Franz August Raabe, 94, passed away April 9 of a brief illness in Orange Park, Fla. He was born in Farmington in Jefferson County on Sept. 2, 1915. He grew up on his family's dairy farm and enjoyed canning with his younger sister, and raising ducks and rabbits, which he sold to raise money for schooling.

In his 2005 autobiography, Raabe said as a "little person" he endured years of schoolyard teasing about what he called his "abnormal lack of height", before wandering one day into the "Midget Village” attraction at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

It was not until later on in life that he learned the cause for his dwarfism. Doctors indicated that his pituitary gland was underdeveloped causing him to remain small. While seeking higher education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated in 1937 with a Bachelor's degree in accounting, Raabe spent summers working at world fairs and expositions to earn tuition money.

In June 1937, he began working for the Oscar Mayer Company in Madison as an accountant and then as the public spokesman and image of “Little Oscar--the World's Smallest Chef,” promoting their products. In November 1938, Raabe took a leave of absence to film “The Wizard of Oz”, based on the 1900 novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum, and was cast as the Munchkin Coroner. He was paid $125.00 a week.

Once the movie filming was completed, he returned to the Oscar Mayer Company and continued his career. He worked a combined 30 years for the company.

Raabe also received his private pilot license in 1944 and joined the Civil Air Patrol during World War II in 1945 as a ground instructor, teaching navigation and meteorology.

As “The Wizard of Oz” gained popularity so did Raabe and the other remaining Munchkins, and they appeared at various celebrity events and reunions around the country. Raabe was present when the remaining living "Munchkins" were honored in November 2007 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, Calif.

He was married for 50 years to Margaret Marie Hartline Raabe, another "little person", until her death in October 1997 following a vehicle accident in Florida, in which Raabe also received injuries.

Raabe, who was 4'7", co-authored a book in 2005, “Memories of a Munchkin: An Illustrated Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road”, published by Back Stage Books, with Lt. Daniel Kinske, USN. Raabe was a member of Little People of America and often attended the "Oz-Stravaganza!" in Chittenango, New York where he was treated like royalty.

The north central community, just east of Syracuse, is the birthplace and hometown of L. Frank Baum, and has had a "Oz" celebration since 1978, inviting all living actors from the "Wizard of Oz" movie including the "Munchkins". He also made guest apperances in Chesterton, Indiana and at other Oz festivals around the country.

The last Munchkin actor death was in May 2009, when Mickey Carroll died at 89. He was born Michael Finocchiaro in St. Louis, Missouri, and played the part of the Munchkinland "Town Crier", marched as a "Munchkin Soldier", and was the candy-striped "Fiddler" who escorted Dorothy Gale (portrayed by Judy Garland) down the yellow brick road toward the Emerald City.

With Raabe's passing this month, only four Munchkins survive today; they are: Ruth Duccini, Jerry Maren, Margaret Pellegrini and Karl Slover, from among the slightly more than 100 adults and children recruited as "Munchkins" for the film.

Prior to his death, Raabe, a master gardener, enjoyed returning home to Wisconsin as often as he could (his last visit being in the spring of 2006) while residing at Penny Retirement Community in Penny Farms, Florida. He is survived by his younger sister, Marion Ziegelmann of Watertown, Wis., other relatives and friends.

Flags were at half mast at Oscar Mayer Foods, Inc., in Madison, Wisconsin until Tuesday night in honor of Raabe. Memorials may be given to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Farmington or the charity of one's choice.

Raabe, who led a colorful and eventful long life, returns to his beloved Wisconsin this week. where, as just as in the classic movie, there is "No Place Like Home.”



Posted 4/21/2010