It started with a simple idea. WFLA TV Meteorologist, John Winter started talking about taking Teddy Bears to children in hospitals during his morning weather forecast. Winter was a member of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, better known in Tampa as the Rough Riders. The Rough Riders were formed to honor the memory of Teddy Roosevelt and the original Rough Riders, who encamped in Tampa before going off to fight in the Spanish/American war in 1898.
News Channel Eight viewers liked Winter's stories about taking the Teddy Bears to children in hospitals and started bringing Teddy Bears to the TV station to give to the Rough Riders to help their efforts.
A tradition was born. The Teddy Bear was named after Teddy Roosevelt. In 1902, Roosevelt was in the south to help settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman and an accomplished hunter. During his trip to the south, Roosevelt said he wanted to go bear hunting, but the hunting trip was not going well.
Trying to help, hunting guides captured a small bear, tied it to a tree and invited the President to shoot it.
Roosevelt considered this to be very unsportsmanlike and refused to shoot. An editorial cartoonist of the day, turned the story into a cartoon and the Teddy Bear was named.
Tampa's Rough Riders picked up on the connection and decided to start their program of taking the stuffed animals to children in hospitals. Thanks to John Winter, the program took off. Winter died in 2007, but the weather staff at the TV station decided to honor their friends memory by continuing the tradition.
Wednesday, children from Kingswood Elementary brought in several bags of bears to the TV station. Teacher Keith Kofron says he wanted his students to see a TV operation, and bring in a bear, " We asked them if they would bring us a new stuffed animal for the children and then we talked a little bit about your campaign."
The Rough Riders call their campaign the John Winter Teddy Bear Roundup. It's been an ongoing tradition for teacher Bev Jarrett at Steinbrenner High School. This year students in her national honor society program collected more than two thousand five hundred teddy bears for the Rough Riders. Senior Grant Gilbert says it's something everyone enjoys, " Yea, it's a lot of fun, it feels good to help a lot of people so that's definitely a benefit of having it."
Teacher Deena Harrod decided this year to begin the tradition at Strawberry Crest High School in Hillsborough County. Her students were able to collect several hundred Teddy Bears. Harrod says she's had the idea for some time, " Just by watching News Channel Eight, by growing up here in Tampa Florida and seeing it on every morning growing up. I just decided to get involved this year."
The Rough Riders will use the Teddy Bears to bring them to children in hospitals, to children in state custody, and have even given them to a program for women who are battling cancer.
Rough Rider Teddy Bear Chairman John Howell says, " Just one bear can help put a smile on a child's face."
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