Teddy bear's travels enrich Howell lives

--By: Bonnie Caprara http://www.detnews.com/2005/livingston/0507/29/B04L-263023.htm

HOWELL,MICHIGAIN -- This summer, Teddy has been to a baseball tournament in Mount Morris near Flint and to historic Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. He has traveled as close as the MIS Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., and has visited as far away as California.

His travel plans have surprised Beth Howard, enrichment coordinator of the Howell Parks and Recreation Department.

"I could not believe the response," Howard said of all the people who wanted to take the 15-inch-tall stuffed bear with curly cinnamon- colored fur on vacations with them.

"I've had to turn a lot of people away," Howard said.

Teddy the Traveling Bear is one of two bears the parks department has made available for residents to take on vacations with them. One bear travels with families who have smokers; the other with nonsmoking families.

Howard started the program in the spring based on the success of a similar program in Lansing.

"Our goal is for the bears to visit as many places in the world as they can," Howard said.

The parks department provides the bears, their own miniature travel packs with travel-size toiletries, and a journal.

"When I get the journals back, they're always written by children," Howard said. "It's good for kids because they're writing every day."

The department asks each family to bring back a photograph of the bear at a landmark, which is posted on a bulletin board in the parks and recreation office. There are also state, national and world maps that mark the locations the bears have traveled.

"The seniors who come to the senior center are really into it, too," Howard said. "They're always checking out the map and asking about where the bear has been. It's a community event."

It was only fitting that Deanne J. Oswald-DeBottis, 43, of Howell, and her daughter, T. Kourtney-Chloe DeBottis, 12, took Teddy with them on their weeklong motorcycle trip from Hell to Paradise in the Upper Peninsula.

"Our turnaround point is in Newberry at Oswald's Bear Ranch," Oswald- DeBottis said.

"My parents have a bear farm, where they have 28 bears, including four bear cubs. We'll take a picture there with the bear and the newborn bears."

Teddy will ride shotgun in a duffel bag on DeBottis' 2000 Harley- Davidson Low Rider, equipped with his own helmet. Other stops along the way will include Lexington, Ludington, St. Ignace, Ste. Sault Marie and Tahquamenon Falls.

Before the mother-daughter riding team left the parks and recreation office with Teddy, T. Kourtney-Chloe DeBottis carefully fastened the strap of Teddy's bike helmet under his chin.

"He always comes back in great shape," Howard said.

"He still looks really good. The kids take care of the bear."

After Teddy comes back from his motorcycle tour of the state, he's scheduled to visit Wisconsin, Alabama, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Mexico.

"He's booked through next year, but there are still openings," Howard said.