Out Here: Sparking the dreams of others

The Rock Falls City Council hadn’t met the city’s most famous resident – well, inanimate object – until this week. That would be Elwood, the dummy. 

His creator, Doug Hand, a longtime Merrill Elementary School teacher who retired in 2012, is gravely ill.

Earlier this week, Mayor Bill Wescott told the council that Hand had asked that the dummy make his first appearance before city government.

“Doug, this is for you,” Wescott told the council. “We’re proud to have him here tonight.”

Some were in tears.

Elwood has been making the rounds for more than three decades, logging 5.7 million miles and meeting the likes of Queen Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela. He’s been on a space shuttle and visited Hungary at the request of that country’s leader.

A website, www.elwoodsadventures.com, documents Elwood’s extensive travels. One of his last trips was to see the Cubs in 2011.

Elwood has enjoyed fame for a long time. A 1990 story in the Chicago Tribune profiled Hand and Elwood.

According to the story, Hand had been lamenting that most of his fifth- and sixth-graders would probably spend their entire lives in Rock Falls.

“The kids read about so many things and dream about so many things,” he told a reporter. “They can’t travel; it’s too expensive. But you can take Elwood and put him in a UPS box and, for $5 or so, you can send him anywhere in the United States.”

His students would write to celebrities to ask whether Elwood could come for a visit. Most agreed.

Photographs always came back with Elwood to prove the dummy had mingled with the rich and famous.

Elwood got his start in 1980, according to the Tribune, when Hand had a class of 21 girls and just eight boys. One of Hand’s friends asked whether he needed anything, and Hand said another boy in the class would be a good addition.

Not long after that, Hand found the smiling doll in a desk, the Tribune reported. The teacher named him Elwood P. Dowd, the main character in “Harvey,” the movie about a man with a 6-foot-tall invisible rabbit for a companion.

In 1990, Hand’s big goal was to have Elwood visit the White House. The dummy later met Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

In a 2007 Sauk Valley Media story, Hand said his students and Elwood had a lot in common – they were all dreamers.

“Elwood is a dreamer, not a wish-maker,” the teacher told the newspaper. “A wish is something that you ask for, and a dream is something that you want. If you wish, someone grants your wish. If you dream, you have to go after it yourself. It’s harder, granted, but it’s well worth it in the end.”

Hand had a dream, too – sparking the dreams of others. He is a huge credit to his profession and the community.

David Giuliani is a news editor for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at dgiuliani@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 525. Follow him on twitter: @DGiuliani_SVM.