World “bear” tour to remember cystic fibrosis victim
MIFFLINBURG — Mifflinburg is home to a bear that has traveled the world to raise awareness about Cystic Fibrosis.
Burke Derr was two days shy of his 19th birthday when he died from cystic fibrosis in 1997. Since his death, some amazing things have happened to carry on his legacy. Burke became a Boyd’s Bear collector at a young age. When he was nearing the end of his life, his father, Bob Derr of Mifflinburg, said his friends thought of a way to remember him.
Derr explained, “Two of Burke’s friends wrote to Gary Lowenthal, who was the CEO of Boyd’s Bears at the time, and said, our friend Burke isn’t doing too well and has been a life-long collector of Boyd’s Bears. Do you think you could name a bear after him…and after about a month’s time, the friends got a letter back saying yes, they would name a bear after Burke.”
Before Burke died, he was able to see the bear that was named in his honor. The Burke P. Bear has since become a valuable tool in raising funding for research on Cystic Fibrosis. Local retailer Lucinda Marks kicked off the fundraising by offering a dollar for each bear sold. Other retailers soon joined in.
Derr said, “Within six months, we had retailers in 35 states and we had raised several thousand dollars with each of them giving us a dollar for every Burke Bear sold. ”
He explained, “That resulted in a person from Massachusetts saying, why don’t you send the bear on a world tour. That began a world tour. One bear has traveled 47 states. We still have Nebraska, Rhode Island and South Dakota to hit. He’s also hit 23 world countries and he’s raised over $450,000 for research.”
The bear is shipped to those who request a visit from the bear, so Derr is hoping someone from the three remaining states will want to host the bear for a few days. You can find out more about having the bear visit at www.pacfi.org. Those who have a visit from the bear need to get a picture with the bear to be chronicled by Derr. Burke P. Bear has visited with some famous people including former governor Tom Ridge and radio host John Tesh.
Derr said, “It’s a pretty phenomenal legacy for a young man. Our son Burke, had he lived, would have been a scientist because he wanted to find a cure for CF.”
Bob Derr says the first ever World CF Day will take place on September 8th. He said, “The intent is to create a wider awareness of cystic fibrosis and to push for funds for more and better research into the disease. It’s really kind of an exciting thing for Pennsylvania Cystic Fibrosis to be a part of it.”
Derr is the founder of Pennsylvania Cystic Fibrosis Inc., an independent nonprofit all volunteer organization helping families and individuals impacted by CF. . (Ali Stevens)