On the daily comics page, Charles Schulz was never one to pass up a happy birthday celebration. There was Snoopy's birthday, occasionally celebrated on different days — August 28 in 1951 (with a hot dog for a candle) and then on August 10 in 1968. Beethoven's birthday could hardly pass without a nod from Schroeder. And sometimes there was no cake for poor ol' Charlie Brown.
But Sparky, as family and friends called him, was never a big fan of his own birthday.
"He wasn't a party guy," says his widow, Jeannie Schulz. "He wasn't the sort who wanted a big celebration on his birthday."
The perfect example was one year when he and his cardiac surgeon celebrated their birthdays together in Oakmont and a scantily clad woman jumped out of the cake.
"That was embarrassing for Sparky because he was aware that there were little kids there," Jeannie remembers.
Today, 11 years after the world-famous, pioneering cartoonist died in Santa Rosa at the age of 77, the Schulz Museum celebrates its namesake's birthday with free admission.
If he were still alive on his birthday (which is actually Nov. 26), "it would be pretty mundane," Jeannie says. "I would ask, shall we have the kids over? Should we go out for dinner?"
A generous soul with family and fellow cartoonists, the "Peanuts" creator would much rather celebrate others' birthdays. One year, he celebrated his daughter Amy's birthday by putting the note "Happy Birthday Amy!" into the strip on August 5. She liked it so much, he did it year after year.
"We have some of his notebooks which have people's birthdays carefully noted in them," Jeannie says. "I think he cared more to be thoughtful than he needed the reinforcement himself. He really loved buying gifts for people and he probably never forgot a birthday because he loved giving gifts so much."
Today, Jeannie Schulz devotes much of her time to keeping the museum fresh and finding different angles of insight into Sparky's genius that haven't been explored. Behind her desk are shelves of books from his home office, including several by World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin, one of his heroes. A miniature Snoopy car sits nearby on the floor. On the wall is a photo of Charles Schulz sleeping in a recliner with his rescued fox terrier, Andy.
"Sparky wasn't necessarily interested — he was disinterested — in having a museum," she says. "But I think he realized that in order to preserve his comic strips, it was the appropriate way to do it."
Even though they didn't talk too much about museum details before he died, Schulz knew what he didn't want it to become.
"He said it won't be Disneyland," she remembers. "He didn't want it to be a place for people to come and play. The main focus was to have a place to show the original strips. It would be about the cartoons and a place that people could come and draw. It would not be about computers. We would not have computers for people to draw on or look things up on computers. He did not use computers. It was the actual physical act of drawing that was a part of everything he believed in. He had a traditional appreciation of the old-school cartoonists and it was all pen and ink."