When Terry Rielly updated his Facebook status one day last week, his news broke the hearts of more than a few of his 3,400-odd online friends.
“What can I say but this makes me sad and will likely make others a little sad, too,” he wrote. “2014 may be the first year in 37 that the Teddy Bears’ Picnic will not happen.”
Rielly was typing out of frustration — both with a process that wasn’t going as smoothly as it had in years past and an illness that causes him struggles from time to time.
In recent years, the longtime children’s entertainer, known as the Teddy Bear Man, has been quite open about his battle with depression and the challenges it sometimes causes him. The day he posted that status, he said, was one of those days, and, with the illness coupled with the stress of things not going right when it came to the organizing of this year’s picnic, he was feeling overwhelmed.
Rielly’s status quickly earned close to 100 comments from teddy bear lovers and kids at heart wanting to know what they could do to help, and almost two dozen shares.
“This is an actual emergency, guys,” wrote one young woman, linking Rielly’s post on her own Facebook wall.
Rielly said he was touched by the response.
“I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it,” he said. “It was so beautiful, and it reminded me how important (the picnic) is to so many people.
“It lifted my spirits at a time when they needed to be boosted.”
Rielly managed to get things figured out with the City of St. John’s, (“Individual people there have always been supportive and great,” he said, though policy changes and other holdups have often proved discouraging), and has confirmed this year’s Teddy Bears’ Picnic will go ahead at Bannerman Park July 12 at noon (July 13 in case of rain).
Having started writing, recording and performing for children 37 years ago, Rielly has spent more than half his life as the Teddy Bear Man — a nickname which he says became permanent for him after the Bears for Bosnia project, which saw Rielly help deliver 10,000 teddy bears donated by local children to children in the former Yugoslavia. He has six CDs to his credit and has performed on "Sesame Street," in children’s hospitals and war-torn countries, but his most famous gig is the yearly Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
This year’s picnic will have all the trimmings it’s known for: a teddy bear clinic where much-loved bears can get mended, face painting, balloon animals and a reading blanket. The Salvation Army will collect donations for local food banks, but admission is free and always will be, Rielly said, adding it’s one of his favourite things about the event.
Having everything organized and underway has done his heart good.
“I’m feeling well,” he said. “I’m just feeling really pumped.”