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Is Collingswood Forgetting Native Son Michael Landon?

Spring has arrived, but plans for Collingswood's erstwhile Michael Landon memorial haven't. Abbe Effron, who spearheaded the now-removed memorial, wishes Collingswood took more of an interest in the late humanitarian.

To millions of TV viewers, Michael Landon was a father figure. 

To Abbe Effron, Landon (the actor who played "Pa" on Little House on the Prairie) was a local hero. 

That's why the fate of a plaque honoring Landon is deeply personal to Effron, who now lives in Cherry Hill. 

In the late 1990s, Effron read about a planned monument to Superman in the town of Krypton, IL, and then another in Riverside, IA, to Captain James T. Kirk. But Collingswood, where she was living, had no memorial for Landon, its own native son.

“These are fictional characters,” Effron says of the Man of Steel and the captain of the Enterprise. “[I thought] this real-life man deserves a tribute in his own town.”

Although she got the go-ahead for her idea, it was incumbent upon Effron to collect personally the money for her planned tribute at . Landon's widow, Cindy, donated The Little Tree House on the Prairie playground equipment. To purchase a plaque honoring Landon, Effron held fundraisers, solicited contributions and set up a not-for-profit bank account.

“My money and my efforts and my work went into raising the $1,400 for the plaque,” she says. “It took a good year-and-a-half, so to me, the plaque is important.”

Years later, the playground has been moved to a different location in Knight Park, the concrete base that marked it has been demolished, and the plaque that Effron worked 18 months to buy, earlier this year became the involving Collingswood Mayor James Maley,  local gadfly Joseph DiNella—a vocal critic of Maley's—and a legion of overseas fans of Little House on the Prairie.

According to Maley, someone took the plaque from a local public-works garage after it had been brought there when the borough removed the marker's concrete base from the park because it presented a safety hazard. DiNella said someone had dropped the plaque on his front porch, and he brought it to the office of the local newspaper, The Retrospect. Collingswood police investigated the plaque's removal from borough property, but no charges have been filed. 

The political kerfuffle notwithstanding, Effron doesn’t understand why Collingswood seems not to care about the late Landon, a standout high school athlete who spoke often of the anti-Semitic harassment he felt from neighbors during his time in town.

“I’ve given up long ago trying to figure out why Collingswood doesn’t want any kind of tribute to Michael Landon,” Effron says. “Other towns in the country are usually proud to have someone of that caliber.”

For the past 15 years, Effron has been the de facto point of contact for all things Michael Landon, fielding inquiries from news outlets, Landon fans and television networks. When the borough gets calls asking about Landon, she says they are routed directly to her. She’s happy to do it, but thinks it’s strange that the borough hasn’t yet worked out a better solution.

“I did all this for free, which I don’t mind,” Effron says. “I would do that for Michael. But I’m not officially anybody. I don’t even live in Collingswood anymore.

“I know it’s a very low-key, small town, but he’s a good guy,” she says. “He did special things with his life. I just think it would be very nice to say he came from there.”

Given the amount of time and energy she has devoted to these issues, Effron says, it’s disconcerting that the borough has no immediate plans to re-dedicate the Landon plaque or the Little Tree House on the Prairie. Maley’s last public comment on the issue was to defer the matter until spring, and Effron says that when she called last week, there was still nothing yet in the works.

“I emailed the mayor about a week ago and I said, ‘OK, it’s spring, what’s going on?’ I want to know; a lot of fans are still asking me,” she says. “[He said] ‘All I can tell you is that plans are in the works and we’ll contact you soon.’”

Maley told Collingswood Patch earlier this week that the borough has no immediate plans to re-dedicate the plaque, which is now at borough hall. 

Effron says that although Maley is “always very nice to me,” she feels as though communication on the issue has become a one-way street. The situation has festered somewhat because she continues to receive phone calls and emails from Landon fans worldwide and she has no news to deliver.

“I don’t expect [the borough] to tell me and then me to tell the world,” she says. “I would expect there to be some sort of formal press release.”

Honoring a humanitarian

If she had her way, Effron says, she’d like to see the borough issue a formal admission of its mistake, hold a re-dedication ceremony, and re-mount the plaque near the tree house playground set.

“What’s the point of having the Little Tree House on the Prairie without the plaque?” she asks. “It looks bizarre because if you didn’t know it was there for Michael Landon, it’s far away from the playground.”

Even if something is accomplished, Effron says, the borough will only be going through the motions “because they have to.” She’s past being angry but doesn’t think any fix would be “real genuine,” and says Maley miscalculated the impact of his initial remarks that “people are making too much of this.”

Without local reporting on the issue, Effron says she might not even have known the plaque was missing until the next time she came to visit. She told DiNella, “You saved it whether you did it on purpose to get the mayor in trouble or not.”

Aside from his celebrity as a local boy made good, Effron says Landon deserves a tribute from Collingswood because he was a humanitarian whose efforts touched many lives. Landon “did a lot of charity stuff before it was cool for movie and TV stars,” much of it to benefit children.

There’s also another personal connection to the story for Effron. Shortly after the dedication of the playground, her young son was diagnosed with cancer. When the Landon family found out, she says, they were more supportive than anyone else in her immediate circle of friends.

“I was working full time and the Landon family helped us,” she said. “We got home from the hospital and there was a bouquet of flowers. [Landon’s] sister would send him gifts every year for his birthday and Hanukkah.”

Her son is healthy, off chemotherapy, and in college now, but Effron says that story illustrates the generosity of the Landon family and the continuing legacy of the late Collingswood native—and that, she says, is worth preserving.

(Editor's Note: Abbe Effron's last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.)

john q public March 31, 2012 at 12:17 PM
I think mayor mccheese sold it for scrap to try to get Moodys to change their rating on his stupendously stupid blunderyard project
Abbe Effron March 31, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Matt - great story, but my last name is spelled with 2 "f"s - Effron! Would love to say I am a close relative of movie star Zac Efron, but no such luck (lol)....
Abbe Effron March 31, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Thanks for changing it, Matt!!! :)
Loretka April 01, 2012 at 12:50 AM
I think the mayor and commissioners of Collingswood should be ashamed to just push this matter aside. Michael Landon was a Collingswood native, he was a famous and well respected actor, many of us watched his TV series Little House on the Prairie, and his wife was concerned enough to have a playground built in his memory in our Knight Park. The mayor and commissioners are treating this like it really doesn't matter. Well ---- it DOES matter. They should install the plaque by the playground that was donated by Mrs. Landon in Michael Landon's memory. That's where it belongs. A re-dedication is also warranted. Have some respect, Collingswood.
Joe April 01, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Are we seriously dredging this story up again? I would truly love to live in a world where this was my biggest worry.
Kevin April 01, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Why did you read it Joe, since you have many more important worries to deal with? It obviously matters to some people based on the comments.
Abbe Effron April 01, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Thanks, Kevin! Joe - what if you worked really hard on a project that you really believed in only to see it literally thrown away in the trash? No one is saying you have to agree with having a tribute to Michael Landon in Collingswood, but that a person who volunteered a lot of their time and effort years ago to create something nice for kids and in honor of a native son of Collingswood shouldn't have their hard work just tossed away. That's all it's about when you get down to the nitty gritty of it. :)
Bill McKenna April 01, 2012 at 04:51 PM
The day the Landon family came to Collingswood for the dedication is a special memory for my wife and I. We certainly are very proud of our Collingswood son. Hope this story has a happy ending.
Carol April 01, 2012 at 05:11 PM
How could we forget when Patch keeps reminding us.
Ruth Rouff April 01, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Michael Landon was one of the few (only?) people from Collingswood who ever became internationally known. We need the plaque.
Loretka April 02, 2012 at 12:46 AM
And I hope Patch keeps reminding us - over and over - until the plaque is placed in an honorable spot by the playground that Michael Landon's wife provided for Collingswood's children in his memory. To Carol and Joe, and to the Mayor and Commissioners of Collingswood, I say we should NOT forget.
Maria Vaz April 03, 2012 at 04:04 AM
I would never know this city if not for Michael Landon! Since I was born and live in Brazil, I understand what that means is how much this man loved and admired throughout the world! Any other city would be honored to have the name associated with Michael Landon! If the mayor does not have this sensitivity, I believe he is not prepared to administer anything, much less a city! If I were a resident of this city, I would charge that the mayor more respect for world opinion and the image of this city! PS: Sorry for my grammar mistakes, but my language is not English. A place that does not honor its native, and does not glorify the past, is not prepared to face the future and honor the citizens of the present!
Carmen Marks April 16, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Seriously Joe, why are you back here reading this if it is so insignificant to you. Why aren't you out trying to solve the world's greater problems. Don't read it if you don't like it, but don't degrade those people to whom this is important. And it is important to alot of people....and I am one of them. Cindy Landon comes across the country to Michael's hometown to do something nice for children and this is what happens. You know, sometimes it is the small things in life that matter the most and this is something that matters to alot of people. So Joe, if you don't like it, don't read it. And mayor whoever, you should be ashamed of yourself! I visited Collingswood because of Michael and spent money there just to be in the town where he grew up.....I knew his sister and I am appalled at this. Get a spine and put the plaque back where it belongs. Carmen Marks
Carmen Marks April 16, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Thank you Maria for saying it like it is. I have to agree with you about this mayor taking down the plaque.....another city would be honored to have their name associated with as great a man as Michael Landon.....and I had heard he went back to visit there. I spoke to a man who was in school at the time Michael visited and he told me that when Michael walked in the classroom, he was bigger than life! That is how he should be remembered!! Shame on the mayor......oh, and put the plaque back where it belongs!!
Marsha Solton June 29, 2012 at 10:53 PM
You know, the above comments are so unneccesary,,,,,we have become such a disrespectful country....Of course, it should be in the partk,,,,better yet,,,,,How about using the $5,000 dollars to make a whole presentation around the plaque,,,Now that's a statement....I'm asking you, who else famous came from Collingswood besides Little Joe???? Have some class Collingswood !

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