DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mi'ilani Cooper, event organizer for the Teddy Bear Convention, and her cat Nakili are surrounded by bears that Cooper plans to donate for the event.
Lovable teddy bears might be
what the world needs now
If Saddam Hussein had grown up with a teddy bear, the world might be a better place today, imagines Linda Kai, who will be one of the instructors at the seventh annual national Teddy Bear Convention, opening tomorrow at the Ala Moana Hotel and continuing through Sunday.
"We could break down racial barriers with something as simple as the teddy bear," Kai said. "That is what it is all about."
Joan Greene agrees. "Teddy bears are a universal symbol of peace and gentleness," said the author of "In Search of Teddy," a book of heartwarming tales about the bond between teddy bears and people of all ages. "I've traveled all over the world. Teddy bears are the ambassadors of good will," Greene said.
Greene's book focuses on people who ventured into her shop, Bears to Go, which she operated in San Francisco for 12 years. She will be the keynote speaker at the "East Meets West" convention on Saturday night. She will also do readings and book signings at Borders Ward Centre and Waikele, to talk about how these cuddly companions and confidants boost the human spirit.
Greene, who holds a master's degree in counseling, has seen the profound effect of teddy bears on their keepers. "If you hand a person a teddy bear, it makes them smile. They are for people of all ages. ... That is one of the reasons that I love them so much," she said.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mi'ilani Cooper prepares bears for the Teddy Bear Convention Show and Sale Sunday.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks, Greene saw 1,000 chairs in Central Park, each bearing a teddy bear. She noted that police departments often use teddy bears for comforting those who have been traumatized by crime.
One of her favorite experiences took place when an elderly woman entered her shop in search of a bear like one she remembered from her childhood. Her family had fled from Germany when she was a small girl. She said the trip to America was difficult, but her bear comforted her during the long journey.
The woman found the bear she wanted, but it was $78. She had only $3 wrapped in an old handkerchief. Greene took the $3 but gave the woman 42 cents back in change, for a purchase price of $2.58.
Greene didn't care that she had lost money in the sale, saying that it is relationships and people, rather than material gain, that is important in life. This woman needed a friend, she said, and "it was a privilege to provide one for her."
Another time, she remembers being in line on a busy shopping day just before Christmas. Shoppers were irate, but a lanky man stepped out of line, picked up three bears and started juggling them, making everyone forget their misery.
He later told Greene that he was a minister. "That must have been one of his best sermons. There were no pews and no choir, but he made everyone happy."
Teddy bears have the ability to bring the best out in people, she said, no matter what their appearance.
"They are the object of love, and that is what makes them special. Some have no hair, others may be missing an ear or have no eyes. As years pass by, we are not as perfect and pristine. We need to appreciate our beauty for who we are."
Mi'ilani Cooper adored dolls and stuffed toys since she was a child, but began making teddy bears after cancer left her unable to have children. "When my sister was pregnant and I wanted to make something for my niece, my sister said we could share her baby." One bear led to another, and Cooper is helping to organize the convention.
For Cooper the bears represent a simpler time. War and technology have taken its toll on this country's innocence, causing us to forget about the important things, she said.
"Nowadays, small kids are using computer games. You don't see them with toys. It's really sad. I'd like to see them carrying teddy bears or dolls."
Cooper has been collecting bears that will be donated to charities assisting abused and sick children and the elderly.
Also, "Kids who attend the convention will get to adopt a free bear," she said.
A single act can "make everything better," said Greene. "One kind act can truly make a difference."
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