Packed to the gills

Diane and Mark Oehlke of Paso Robles have a few Green Bay Packer items in their home.
David Middlecamp
Diane and Mark Oehlke of Paso Robles have a few Green Bay Packer items in their home. David Middlecamp 1-25-2011 The Tribune

It doesn’t take long to figure out who the Oehlkes are rooting for in today’s Super Bowl.

As soon as you pull up to their driveway, you’ll see their green Jeep with a Packers logo on the side. Meanwhile, in the back yard, a Packers flag hangs proudly from a pole.

But inside the house – that’s the real shrine.

“I grew up 32.5 miles from Lambeau Field,” said Mark Oehlke, who has lived in Paso Robles since 2005. “Two Rivers, Wisconsin.”

As The Tribune kicks off its occasional series on local collectors, it made sense to start with Oehlke, who’ll be rooting for Green Bay today amid his Packer collection.

“Here’s Sterling Sharpe when he set the record with catching 108 passes in one season,” he says, pointing to a framed, autographed photo of Sharpe in his living room. Then he moves on to the next autographed picture – of Reggie White, the defensive Hall of Famer who died suddenly at age 43. “Then I’ve got Reggie, God bless his soul.”

There’s a print of Packer coach Vince Lombardi autographed by the Packers team that beat Dallas in the famous Ice Bowl of 1967; a canceled check, signed by Lombardi, for $1,064.60 (two weeks pay) made out to receiver Boyd Dowler in 1959; a Packers Bobble Head doll he got at a Clark gas station in 1964; 35 shirts and sweatshirts; a chunk of Lambeau Field from the 1996 season (kept in the freezer since it’s officially a piece of Lambeau’s “frozen tundra”); Wheaties boxes featuring Packer greats like Brett Favre and Bart Starr; and Packer-decorated remote controls.

Trust us – there’s lots more.

He even has shares of Packers stock – three for himself, two for his son and one he recently bought his wife, Diane, as a Christmas gift. “I said, ‘Well, honey – you always wanted to be an NFL owner.”

In the hallway, Oehlke – who only keeps Miller-Lite beer, the official brew of Lambeau field, on tap -- proceeds to discuss his collection of artist sketches depicting Packers players. Meanwhile, Diane and their English springer spaniel Biscuit – both dressed, like Mark, in Packer jerseys – follow.

“This is Don Hutson,” Oehlke says. “He’s credited with making popular the forward pass.”

Other prints show Bart Starr, Max McGee, Donny Anderson and Dowler.

“He died about a year and a half ago,” Oehlke says of Dowler. “He was up on his roof, shoveling the snow off, and he slipped. He had Alzheimer’s, and his wife went away to go shopping.”

Then he moves along: “And here’s Paul Hornung.”

As anyone from the Green Bay area can tell you, the love for the Packers in Wisconsin is intense. When Oehlke got his son on the waiting list for season tickets, roughly 40,000 fans were already ahead of him. Luckily, that spot can be passed on to future generations.

“Maybe his great-grandchildren will have a shot,” Oehlke said. “Because last year, eight tickets turned over.”

While it’s been almost impossible to get season tickets since the Bart Starr era, Oehlke did attend several games at Lambeau as a teen.

“I was working at a grocery store there,” he says. “And a guy I worked with had Packer tickets. And he couldn’t get anyone to go because that was a bad time, in the 70s.”

While the Packers remained a mediocre team through the 80s, Oehlke, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, was gone long before the famed Brett Favre years. As an executive for General Mills – that explains how he got the Wheaties boxes -- he would move to places like California, Iowa, Ohio and Canada. But his passion for the Pack never waned.

As a youth, his collection was mostly limited to football cards. But his hobby exploded as an adult in the mid-90s. Since it’s not as easy to find Packer gear outside of Green Bay, Oehlke ordered much of his goods from a collectible store based in Milwaukee.

“They would call me if they had something special,” he said.

The more stuff he got, the more his house became crammed with Packer green. Which, some might think, could pose a problem for his wife, a native Californian, whom he married 28 years ago.

“I do get a lot of grief from girlfriends,” Diane Oehlke said. “But I always tell them, ‘If that’s my greatest worry in life – that my husband is a Packer fan – I’m okay with it.’”

Not that the house is entirely wallpapered in Packer colors. The bedroom and kitchen, for example, are free of football.

“I have to draw the line someplace,” Diane said.

While his collecting has slowed down a bit in recent years – there’s simply no more room, he explained – he still has his sights set on a couple more items: a signed helmet and a signed football.

“So when we win the Super Bowl, I’ll pursue the helmet or the football.”