After 39 years as "Top Banana," International Banana Club Museum curator-owner Ken Bannister has declared it's time to bid farewell to his unique collection of all-things-banana and split from Hesperia.


"I thought this would be the final resting place for the museum," said Bannister, 70, who began his collection on lark at a photography convention in 1972.


But on Jan. 5, Bannister, a real estate agent when he's not finding additional items for his collection, learned that the collection of 17,000 banana items would have to find another home. A letter from the Hesperia Recreation and Park District, which has sponsored the museum for the last four years, informed Bannister that he must remove his vast collection of banana books, paintings, toys and more by the end of February.


"My mouth dropped open. I said, 'What?"


According to the letter, the park district needs to make room for its John Swisher collection, which includes books and artifacts from the late Hesperia historian.


"Don't lose your sense of humor," he said to himself. "Eveything's for a reason."


So Bannister did what any owner of thousands of banana-related collectibles would do. He put the entire collection on eBay.


"The opening bid is $45,000," he said. "Now I can let somebody else be the top banana."


Besides the world's only petrified banana, a gold-sequined Michael Jackson banana and other crescent-shaped oddities guaranteed to have visitors seeing yellow, "Bananaster," as he sometimes calls himself, is throwing in the bananaclub.com web site domain name and other International Banana Club Museum promotional tools.


"This is a branded name all over the world. We've done over 100 television shows. Since we've been in Hesperia we've done seven or eight shows with six being network shows."


The International Banana Club Museum has become a field trip destination for local students and organizations such as the Girl and Boy Scouts. And it's also brought visitors to Hesperia from other countries. In fact, the club boasts members in 17 different countries.


Visitors soon discover, however, that one of the true gems of the museum is docent Glen Speer, a veteran of World War II who donates several hours a week to the facility.


"I brag about Glen to everybody I know," Bannister said. "He's always interested in what everybody is doing. He's an inspiration. The city has been so fortunate to have him here."


Both Bannister and Speer can't hide their disappointment, however.


"Actually I've only teared up a couple times, and I teared up on this one," said the typically ebullient Bannister.


Despite his sadness, Bannister wants to concentrate on happy thoughts as he has helped others do for the past four decades.


"We've had too much fun with this over the years," he said.