By Paul Burdziakowski
For Hometown News
"You don't know what you can do until you try."
That's the motto of H.W. Bear, a 1986 Dakin Teddy Bear that is a world traveler, goodwill ambassador, mascot of The Happy Wanderers Volksmarch Club in Port Orange, and now the subject of one book and possibly more.
H.W. Bear was a wild idea that became a wonderful reality. Since his inception, H.W. Bear has been to more places than the average person and put together an impressive resume along the way. His travels have motivated, inspired and put smiles on the faces of all that cross his path.
The tale of H.W. Bear started in winter 1995 when, because of time, distance and expense, no one from the 200 member Happy Wanderers Club was willing to make the trip to a convention in Portland, Ore. Co-president of the club, Elaine Brayton, came up with the idea to send a Teddy Bear to the convention. The idea initially started as a joke, but after some continued discussion, followed by a Teddy Bear donation from a group member's grandson, the idea soon became a reality.
First came a name, H.W. Bear, which stands for Happy Wanderer Bear, followed by a snazzy outfit that consists of a T-shirt, shorts, hat and fanny pack. Then came a willing mouthpiece in the form of Ms. Brayton to let those who met H.W. Bear know about his purpose and destination. The rest would come along the way from willing and helpful people who didn't mind having an extra traveling companion.
H.W. Bear's adventure began at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse where a group of walkers participating in a Volksmarch event picked him up and took him on a bus trip back to Maryland and agreed to get him to the conference in Oregon. As promised, H.W. Bear found his way to the convention and returned safely to the home of Elaine and Alan Brayton with pictures, journals and pins telling them all about his adventure.
Since then, H.W. Bear has traveled far and wide through many means, including by foot, wagon, bicycle, car, van, bus, train, cruise ship and plane. He has walked through all 50 states, been through all the provinces of Canada, gone to Mexico and visited 12 countries in Europe. For his most recent trip, H.W. Bear returned on May 11 from the Oasis of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines where he met the captain and sat in his chair on the bridge.
H.W. Bear's list of accomplishments include taking part in a peace pipe ceremony in Texas, taking part in a patriotic ceremony in Mount Vernon, Va., honoring George Washington, meeting U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen in 1998, attending a Texas A&M bowl game, going to the Munich Oktoberfest in Germany, riding in the Pasadena Rose Bowl parade and game, participating as the Grand Marshal of a parade in England, and meeting the Flying Thunderbirds in Kansas.
"In my opinion the most interesting trip that H.W. Bear took was to Liechtenstein when he rang the palace doorbell of the prince," Ms. Brayton said.
"I think his biggest feat was actually flying in a B-1 Bomber at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas and earning his wings," Mr. Brayton said.
As the story got around about the travels of H.W. Bear his popularity began to grow so much he soon had a busy schedule with hundreds of people requesting his presence.
"H.W. Bear brings a great deal of joy and adventure wherever he goes," Mr. Brayton said. "He is a great ice breaker. When he is around, people stop being serious and start having fun."
H.W. Bear not only brings out smiles and laughs from those who meet him, but he is also a great motivator, especially for one eight-year-old girl. According to Ms. Brayton, the little girl did not want to finish a 6.2-mile walk in which she was participating. When her grandmother told her H.W. Bear would be waiting at the finish line for her, she decided to complete the walk. Ms. Brayton recalls the big smile she had on her face when she crossed the finish line and got to hold H.W. Bear in her arms.
To others, H.W. Bear is an inspiration. According to Mr. Brayton, there was a young Serbian man aboard a cruise ship who heard about H.W. Bear's motto and the story of all the places he had been. Mr. Brayton recalls looking on in wonder as the young man who had gone through two wars in Serbia held the bear in his arms and with tears in his eyes asked him to help reach his goal of becoming an actor.
Considering H.W. Bear has been all over the world, maybe the most amazing thing is the fact people have taken such great care of him and he has never gotten lost.
"We were amazed at how motivated people were to put him in situations that told a story," Ms. Brayton said. "We get excited for him whenever he is on his trips because we wonder who he will meet, what is he going to do, and what is he going to come home with."
"H.W. Bear returns home with pictures, pins, patches, T-shirts and medals," said Mr. Brayton. "The most interesting things that he has returned with is a homemade vest from Indiana and homemade snowshoes from Manitoba, Canada."
With 12 scrapbooks of photos and boxes of memorabilia detailing H.W. Bears adventures, Ms. Brayton decided to write a book to let others know about this amazing story. It took two years to get everything organized and another year to write the book, which was finally published May 6. The book, which details the travels of H.W. Bear throughout 1995, is a great read for adults and children alike. With so many more years of stories to tell, Ms. Brayton plans on writing two or three more books. Anyone interested in purchasing a book can go to www.hwbear.com. For others who may want to follow H.W. Bear on his adventures, they can stay tuned as a Facebook and Twitter page are coming soon.