Photo: Jerry Klein
Elwood is rather hard to miss, hanging around the UCF Office of Institutional Research.

World Traveler Spending Summer at UCF

6/27/01

By Susan Loden

"Elwood, the Duchess and the Web" might sound like a sitcom, but it’s really the story of UCF’s newest "student," a 4-foot-4, 12-pound fifth grader who arrived on campus June 11 via U.S. mail in a Rubbermaid trash can.

Elwood – a smiley-faced, stuffed-cloth boy doll dressed in blue jeans and a red polo who has traveled 4.5 million miles throughout the world – is spending the summer as the houseguest of UCF computer programmer analyst Anne Ryder, creator and master of http://www.elwoodsadventures.com/. The doll has rubbed elbows with the elite, from Jay Leno, the Lone Ranger and Nelson Mandela to Queen Elizabeth and Snoopy. His face was sent into orbit on the Discovery space shuttle and a flat form of Elwood was on the frontline of Desert Storm.

Each of his adventures over the past 20 years fulfills dreams of an ever-changing cast of children in the Rock Falls, Illinois, fifth-grade class of Elwood’s creator and guardian, Doug Hand. Hand crafted Elwood in response to a parent’s claim that children should shun fiction and fantasy when Hand was caught reading "Pinocchio" to his class. Elwood is named after Elwood P. Dowd, the James Stewart character in the movie "Harvey." "I figured if Elwood P. Dowd could believe in a six-foot, white rabbit named Harvey, kids could believe in a little doll named Elwood," he says.


Elwood is the guest of Anne Ryder, and wants to visit as many local attractions, schools and events as will have him. Photo: Kelly Petrik.

Hand’s students tracked Ryder down last year when, by accident, they found a Web site they liked that Ryder had created. "They wrote and asked how I created that site. I wrote back. I had no idea who Elwood was," Ryder says. She began corresponding with and answering questions from the children. They asked her if she would create an Elwood web site. "I said, ‘I thought you would never ask. I’d love to do this for you.’"

The fifth graders choose Elwood’s missions and vicariously travel along. Some of his adventures are unplanned. Texas Rangers recently had to rescue and recover Elwood from an errant private school teacher who failed to send him home after a visit to the Lone Star State. Ryder aided in the search by creating a second "Elwood is Lost" web site that attracted interest around the world. "Doug and the class thanked me when Elwood was brought back. They wanted Elwood to meet his web mistress," Ryder says.

Elwood does have an honorary Bachelor of Big Dreams degree, ’94, from Yale University. With his official UCF student ID around his neck, Ryder suspects and hopes that at summer’s end Elwood will take home an honorary graduate degree from UCF. She plans to take him along to the USPS Awards Banquet on July 6, when she is recognized for 30 years of service to UCF.

"I made business cards for Elwood, and in one day gave out more of his cards than I have of mine in 30 years here." In part, the "Big Dream" doll’s card reads: "Always believe in a dream, have a desire to follow that dream and the determination to see it through to the end." Elwood’s e-mail address is elwood@cin.net.

"When he arrived in his trash can at 8:30 Monday morning, the mailman was so cute," recalls Ryder. "He didn’t know what was in the can. When we opened it up, I guess I screamed. The mailman threw up the lid. I found myself holding Elwood. My husband, Jack, was talking to him last night. There is just something about Elwood. His web site has been part of my life for over a year."

As word of this big dreamer on campus spreads, Elwood’s appointment book is quickly filling with other UCF staff members planning his visits to a Habitat for Humanity home site, the Freedom Ride horseback ride for those with disabilities and more. Ryder will report to Hand’s class in September on Elwood’s summer in Orlando.

Elwood is destined to always be a 10-year-old. His official ID for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Vice Detail expires "never." Both Ryder and Hand are making plans for when they are no longer a part of his life. "I’m trying to set it up, if something happened to me, somebody could pickup the Web site," she says. Hand, who has paid all of Elwood’s travel expenses and considers that a good investment in the dreams of children, hopes to establish a museum to house Elwood and tons of mementos. He’s also looking for an author to pen an Elwood book for children so the dreams will never die.

UPDATE: Elwood was awarded his Master's of Arts in Big Dreams by the University of Central Florida on August 4th, 2001. This degree will be added to his resume as he continues to follow the dreams of children around the world. "Thanks, UCF, for believing in me!" Elwood