Teacher’s Creativity Will Be Remembered
by Erma Bombeck

Some will say this is a story about a bunch of kids at Thome School in Rock Falls, Ill. Others will remember the kid’s teacher and his creativity. Still others will recall the creation of a doll-like character called “Elwood”.

It’s a story about dreams.

Dreams are hard to instill in children. You can’t lick them, unwrap them, buy them, or put them on a shelf for your mother to dust every week. Dreams live in your mind, and sometimes no one knows they’re there. Doug Hand wanted his sixth-graders to know about dreams and how important they are in growing up. But how do you tell kids they can be anything they want to be, go anyplace they want to go, and turn fantasies into realities?

Enter Elwood P. Dowd (the fictional name of Jimmy Stewart in “Harvey”, who traveled with a 6-foot invisible rabbit). Elwood is a 4-foot, 4-inch duplicate of a little boy, complete with tennis shoes and hat. Maybe the entire sixth-grade class couldn’t pick up and go in search of dreams, but Elwood could go and the kids could live vicariously through his travels. The children made a list of people they wanted to meet and places they wanted to visit.

I got a letter from a member of the class, Rachel Blackert, asking if Elwood could visit with me. No sooner had Elwood returned from his stay with the late Malcolm Forbes than it was back in the box and on to Arizona to see what a humorist does when she isn’t humoring.

A note came with him: “When I first started to travel seven years ago, a lot of people didn’t think I was real. That’s because Mr. Hand said those people don’t believe in a lot of things "cause they lost their imagination." He says people believe in me now because I believed in myself and I didn’t give up. Every person I meet that believes in me makes me all the more human.”

The governor of Illinois in 1986 thought he was human enough to christen him a Republican. Ed Bradley and the staff of “60 Minutes” posed with him for a picture. Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois took Elwood to a staff meeting in Washington,D.C., and the Lone Ranger treated him to a commercial shoot. And that’s only a small number of the people Elwood has met. The stuffed boy has his sights on Johnny Carson and the White House, although he acknowledges that “Johnny might be the hardest.”

Mr. Hand, whose ultimate dream is to have Elwood visit with Jimmy Stewart, says: “There’s nothing wrong with dreaming. Kids learn to take a chance. They learn to try and not to give up if they fail the first time. That’s a valuable lesson in life for a child to learn.

I would hope that one day Elwood would arrive at the White House or NBC in Burbank in his UPS box. You don’t have to fiddle with him much. Just sign his autograph book, pose for a picture or two, and maybe send a note saying how he spent his day. The kids provide the excitement and the imagination. After all, isn’t that how we all started out? With a dream?