First Posted: 4/3/2014
Fred the Bear, a long-time employee at the children’s room at the Back Mountain Memorial Library, is retiring and his cousin Sunny Cuddles, another bear, is replacing him.
Fred began his career in 1998 when the new children’s wing was first built. John Gager, then a member of the board of directors, decided had become too old to have a bear like Fred in his room and gave the bear he had won at Cook’s Pharmacy to the library.
Gager thought the bear would be “something new and nice to put in the new children’s wing,” according to Janet Bauman, children’s librarian.
But the children’s wing was not quite complete, so the bear ended up at the home of Debbie Kirkwood the library’s bookkeeper, for a while.
Kirkwood’s daughters, Cheryl and Lynn, named the bear Fred and the Kirkwoods made him a “hot air-balloon” tee shirt to wear for the opening of the children’s room, keeping him safe until the big day in 1998.
It’s been a productive 16-year run for the life-sized bear, who sits in a rocking chair day and night, greeting children coming into the library – hard work even for a bear.
Fred is on call 24/7, taking his assignments with stride and dignity. “The children gravitate to him, usually kissing him and hugging him but not always; some have been rough,” admits Bauman.
Besides his role as greeter, Fred changes costume, depending on the season. He gets dressed to go back to school in the fall and has costumes for St. Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Easter (with his ears and a basket) and for the summer reading programs, all made by Kirkwood.
Fred has been a detective, a spy, a construction worker and would have been a scientist this summer for the libraries “Fizz, Boom and Read” program.
Fred credits Kirkwood for his costumed tee-shirts but admits he is very tired and ready for retirement to the Canadian wilderness where he would love to go fishing.
Sunny Cuddles is a bear whose consignment is paid for by Jan Dreher, in memory of her deceased 6-year-old grandson Kyle David Denmon, who died in a school yard accident 20 years ago. “I can’t buy him (Kyle) toys but this will be helpful to other children his age,” Dreher said about her donation.
The Price family from Sweet Valley has an exceptional fondness for the Fred the Bear. “Fred has made history,” says 11-year-old Todd, who has a collection of 108 bears in his bedroom. Todd, his brother Sam and his sister, Juliet, were among the many who enjoyed a farewell party for the bear, admitting that their older brothers, Tim and Kevin, would also have loved to be there to say goodbye to Fred, but they were working.