Named for Mifflinburg teenager Burke P. Derr who died due to cystic fibrosis (CF) in 1997, Burke P. Bear began a United States and world tour to create an awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research. Now, more than 16 years later, the "Travelling Teddy" has visited all 50 states, two Canadian provinces and 23 countries in touching thousands of lives and raising more than $535,000 for CF research.
"We call it the Million Dollar Bear campaign and Burke's Tour," Bob Derr, Burke's father, said. Derr is the public relations person and secretary for Pennsylvania Cystic Fibrosis Inc., the organization that coordinates the campaign and tour.
"My wife, Linda, and I are proud of Burke's legacy, and we're humbled by the support the campaign and tour has received locally, nationally, and internationally. It's all about creating a broad awareness of the disease and finding a long-term beneficial treatment or a cure."
A few days after the New Year, Burke P. Bear returned from South Dakota, his 50th state, where he was hosted by the Ginsbach family.
The bear was hosted in every state by a volunteer family that was either affected by CF or loved the story of Burke P. Bear.
Hosts were asked to take one or two photos of Burke at a local or area landmark, and return him to Pennsylvania when his visit ended. Some hosts kept him for a couple of days and others for a few weeks.
Three host families wound up keeping him for a month. The Maine host sent a photo of Burke climbing the gates of best-selling writer Stephen King's home, and the Mississippi host sent a photo of Burke hanging on the sign noting Elvis Presley's birth home in Tupelo. In North Carolina, he was pictured at a Carolina Panthers football game.
Over the years, Burke P. Bear also received several accolades. He was titled "The Pennsylvania Ambassador for Love, Peace, Having Fun, and Curing Cystic Fibrosis" through House Resolution 198 passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1999.
The Massachusetts state senate honored him for his CF work, and the cities of Auburn, Mas., and Lubbock, Texas, followed with similar commendations. The United States Congress gave him a Certificate of Merit for his CF awareness and fundraising, and a British magazine dubbed him "The Globe-Trotting Ambassador of Love."
PACFI provides more information about Burke P. Bear on its website at www.pacfi.org, and there's also a Burke P. Bear page and a PACFI page on Facebook.
"Burke P. Bear visited 23 world countries and there are about 196," Derr said.
"So it looks like the Globe-Trotting ambassador of love will be touring for several more years."