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,"
Elwood is the guest of Anne Ryder, and wants to visit as many
local attractions, schools and events as will have him. Photo:
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,"
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
"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.
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