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Superman collector sets sights on super cause

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Mark Griffin with his Superman collection in his Penn Run home on September 12, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
A portion of Mark Griffin's Superman collection in his Penn Run home on September 12, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Cookies in Mark Griffin's Superman collection in his Penn Run home on September 12, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Lunch boxes in Mark Griffin's Superman collection in his Penn Run home on September 12, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Camille Morris, secretary on the Indiana County Humane Society’s executive board, and Mark Griffin, of Penn Run, pose for a portrait with Taz, a dog that is available for adoption, at the Indiana County Humane Society shelter in White Township.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Mark Griffin's Superman collection in his Penn Run home includes shoes, figurines, cookie jars, and decorative plates among other items on September 12, 2013.

Retired Pennsylvania State Police Detective Mark Griffin of Penn Run started collecting Superman memorabilia more than 40 years ago.

Just back from Army duty in Vietnam, Griffin's then-girlfriend presented him with a life-size cutout of the Action Comics icon at a surprise party.

“I was jumping with a local skydiving club,” says Griffin, now 67, who was then living in his native Johnstown. “I guess she equated my free-falling with Superman flying. The cut-out was pretty unique. I liked it, and it kind of stuck.”

Today, Griffin's Man of Steel collection is large enough to fill an entire room and includes films, original comic books and other rare antiques, like a toy phone booth that opens to reveal a tiny caped crusader; a miniature briefcase containing Clark Kent's hat, glasses and typewriter; and a small railroad car with Superman painted on the side.

His Christmas tree and cards have a Superman theme every year, and his bed is bedecked in Superman sheets. Griffin showers behind a Superman curtain and sips morning coffee from a Superman mug. There are Superman towels and toiletries in the bathroom, Superman table, chairs and area rugs, and a closet filled with Superman togs, socks, hats and, of course, capes.

Under his street clothes, he often sports a T-shirt with a big red and yellow “S” and tells time by any of his six Superman watches. He reads by the light of Superman lamps.

There's even a lava lamp depicting you-know-who soaring over the metropolis.

“If it's Superman-related, I probably have it,” says Griffin, whose friends are always on the lookout for something he doesn't yet own. Griffin's dentist recently surprised him with a Superman painting he purchased from a street vendor while on vacation.

“If I were rich, I'd be considered eccentric,” Griffin says. “But I'm not rich. I just have a goofy hobby.”

He has even found a project that would make his superhero proud.

As a volunteer and former board member of the Indiana County Humane Society, Griffin has spearheaded a drive to generate funds for the shelter through the sale of specialty license plates.

At $35, each plate generates $11 for the shelter's spay and neuter program, with the remainder going to PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

Designed with the humane society logo, the plate also is aimed at bringing greater visibility to the shelter, as it strives to complete construction of a new, larger facility in White Township.

Overcrowding has long been an issue, Humane Society board secretary Camille Morris says. “Only through proper education on responsible pet ownership and spay/neuter can we hope to decrease the unwanted populations of dogs and cats.”

Griffin spent two years wading through the state bureaucracy to make the license-plate program a reality and paid $1,000 from his own pocket to seed the initiative.

His persistence has served him well in other endeavors. A lifelong runner, he was at one time nationally ranked among folks over 40 in Nike Masters races and earned two silver medals and a bronze in the 1986 International Law Enforcement Olympics in Sydney.

As a state trooper, Griffin helped start Camp Cadet, a program for teenage boys in Greensburg. He also performed in the state police rodeo on horseback and motorcycle.

Griffin's interest in helping homeless animals began after he retired from the state and took a job in security at a local power plant. He says it was serendipitous.

“I found a wounded bird outside my office,” he says. “I didn't know what to do with it, so I brought it inside. A cleaning lady saw it and told me she worked for the Humane Society and would take it there to try to get help for it.

“It got me to thinking that if a cleaning lady with a family could find time to volunteer, maybe I should consider doing something like that, too.”

Although he'd never considered himself an animal lover, Griffin visited the Humane Society and asked how he could help.

He was put on dog-walking detail, and soon developed an affinity for the shelter's pit bulls. “The first time I was asked to walk one, I was reluctant, because I had the same preconceptions as a lot of other people,” Griffin says. “This dog had been used as bait in a fighting ring and was badly scarred. But he was the most loving dog I'd ever met.”

Dog walks and potty breaks turned into visits to a local ice-cream parlor, so Griffin could expose families to his canine friends. “I'd pull up in my Superman truck, which was a good conversation starter,” he says. “And people would get to see that pit bulls can be gentle, loving dogs.”

Nine of the pit bulls he has taken under his wing over the years have been adopted. Griffin keeps an album of their pictures and history, and says it means as much to him as anything in his Superman collection.

Griffin laughs when asked if volunteering makes him feel, well, super, but says, “My shelter work has made me a kinder, more caring person. I know it sounds corny and trite, but the truth is, when you give to these animals, you get much more back.”

For information about getting a specialty license plate, go to www.incohumanesociety.com.

Debra Weisberg is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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