June 29, 1998 12:00 PM

Joyce Berg didn’t mind when the occasional tourist dropped by her Beloit, Wis., home to see her angel collection. But when a bus-tour company phoned four years ago, she knew she had a problem. “That pushed us over the edge,” says the 67-year-old grandmother. Clearly her cherubs (figurines, music boxes, even an angel smoke alarm), which number more than 12,000 and inhabited every corner of her four-bedroom ranch-style house, needed a larger, more public place to spread their wings.

Miraculously, only months later, Berg heard about a movement to save the local St. Paul’s Catholic Church from the wrecker’s ball. Convinced her obsession “was all part of a larger plan,” Berg offered to lend her collection to the church to establish a tourist attraction. Now, with 6,000 of her flock—plus 570 donated by Oprah Winfrey, who received hundreds last year after wondering on air if there were angel dolls of color—St. Paul’s has been reborn as the Angel Museum.

Although her collection is a fulltime fixation (her license plate reads N ANGEL), Berg insists it’s a purely secular endeavor, a hobby she and her husband of 43 years, Lowell, a retired 69-year-old grain-elevator operator, started in 1976 while traveling. “It has meaning for us because we did it together,” she says. But 12,037 angels? “One was enough,” teases Lowell. “But it kept her out of the taverns.”

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