By Scott Baughman
When Peggy Keyes lost her husband Larry to pancreatic cancer in 2007, she knew she had to do something to help fight such a deadly variant of the disease.
And later, when Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze also was diagnosed with and later died from the disease of pancreatic cancer she knew that Lake Lure was a place for her activism desire to take root.
“My husband was a huge toy train fan,” Peggy said. “So we decided to open The Right Track toy train museum and raise funds to fight the disease.”
Now, after 16 years and raising more than $70,000 to donate to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – or PanCAN – the museum is closing. All of the items in the toy train museum will be sold with the proceeds going to PanCAN as well.
“There are probably thousands of the trains in the museum,” Peggy said while packing up the facility earlier this year. She recalls so many visitors – more than 5,500 of them over the years – and an especially large increase in interest when Lake Lure’s adopted celebrity Swayze died from the disease in 2009.
“When Patrick Swayze died from Pancreatic Cancer we had a memorial the next day and raised $1,700 that night,” she said. “I was inspired to do this because when Larry was diagnosed we learned that at that time there had been no development in the treatment of pancreatic cancer for more than 30 years. We started the museum to help with the fundraising.”
Peggy is now a breast cancer survivor herself from 2013.
“I’m 87 now and the time has come to close down the museum. The museum is a 501c3 and so everything will be sold and all the money will go to research,” she said. Possible plans for the future of the building on Memorial Highway in Lake Lure are to maybe include an art colony for local artists to display their works.
Peggy said the major legacy of the museum will of course be the funds raised to fight the disease, but for her she will take with her the memories of introducing a new generation to the joy of toy trains that brought so much happiness to Larry when he was still alive.
“The best part about doing this museum is the kids and their joy. They’re darling,” she said. “I had one kid come in about 12 years old with an iPad in his face and I said, “What IS that?” And he said my iPad. I told him to give it to his grandmother and come with me. I was a Bronx school teacher so I can get in his face like that. He did and he had a great time. I had another boy in here, about 8 years old and his family was ready to go get ice cream and he said I don’t want to go get ice cream I want to stay here!”
But in addition to the memories, Peggy said the museum was also about helping families who were dealing with pancreatic cancer themselves.
“We had another family who had just lost their father to pancreatic cancer in Hendersonville and they stopped when they saw our sign because it mentioned the disease,” she recalled. “As they left one of the children said I feel better now. — that’s my favorite story.”