Constable: Lego celebrations in Schaumburg, city prove the toys click for lifetimes
No matter their age, people look back on their childhood as the best time to be a kid. I remember the thrill I got when Santa brought me a basketball and a rim mounted on the garage, a football with shoulder pads and a helmet, a baseball, glove and a Roberto Clemente bat, Hot Wheels and the track that went on forever, G.I. Joe and his Japanese counterpart, an electric football game where players locked arms and ran in circles, and a BB gun.
All cool at the time, but none of them with the staying power of the Lego sets that Santa used to bring our sons. The jubilation of our twin sons, Ross and Ben, when they discovered Santa brought them the very Lego set they desired, still makes me smile. But Legos were more than toys.
When Ross was 6, he got the Steven Spielberg MovieMaker Set with a webcam, stop-motion software, and sound and digital editing. Twenty years later, he makes his living as a filmmaker and editor in Los Angeles. Ben got hooked on Lego's Bionicle characters and loved Mindstorms, Lego's programmable robots, and now he is a physics teacher at a Boston high school.
Will, our youngest, liked Lego's Johnny Thunder explorer, who traveled the globe seeking adventures. Now, Will has been to Italy, India, France, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica and Nepal.
The power of Legos is why Friday is International Lego Day at Schaumburg's Legoland Discovery Center Chicago. And it's why Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry will be home to "The Art of the Brick," the world's largest display of Lego art, beginning Feb. 10.
"It has staying power because you can grow with it as your skills improve," says Greg Nuse, master model builder at Schaumburg's Legoland Discovery Center. "It's very scalable as far as skill level and interest. If you like spaceships and robots, you can do that with Lego. If you like airplanes and cars, you can do that with Lego. If you want to play house, or play farmer, you can do that with Lego."
Six years ago, Nuse won a competition to be the master model builder in Schaumburg. His winning entry was a collagelike structure highlighting all the things to do at the Legoland Discovery Center.
"When I was a kid, I was always making things. My mom said, 'I'm going to be sad when you grow out of this one day,'" Nuse remembers. "It never occurred to me that would happen, and it never has."
Growing up in the small city of Claremore, Oklahoma, near Tulsa, Nuse built with Legos and Lincoln Logs and even incorporated his Hot Wheels vehicles into his creations.
"I was always somebody who had to do something with my hands," Nuse says. He loved building Lego sets as a kid but always went beyond.
"Let's go through the instructions and make what it is," Nuse says. "Then let's tear it apart and make what I want."
That's sort of what he did with his career after college. He was a public school teacher and band director, worked in theme parks -- including Santa's Village in East Dundee -- as a ride operator and mechanic, built theater sets, renovated houses, and taught engineering concepts in park districts and schools.
"I got reintroduced to Legos while still being an educator," Nuse says.
He builds Lego sets at his home in Streamwood but designs his own creations at work. "I'm constantly going up and down ladders and pulling out bins," Nuse says. He's currently working on creating pirate ships and treasure caves for a Pirates Ahoy event from March 25 through May 2.
"Oh, it's fun," Nuse says of building Lego creations that come solely from his imagination. "It's the one you get the most satisfaction from."
And for a few, it can turn into a pleasure for life.