When Gracie Smith was on a family vacation in Illinois, her great aunt bought her a teddy bear at an antique shop in Sandwich.
“She got real attached to him and loved him,” said her grandma, Pam George. “She held onto it the whole time we were there.”
While visiting Starved Rock State Park, the 5-year-old put her new teddy bear “in the perfect hole to rest.” Unfortunately, she left the bear at Starved Rock.
“I was so sad,” said Smith, who lives in North Carolina.
When she realized that night that the bear was gone, she asked her grandma for help.
“She cried and told me to call the police and ask them to go find Mr. Bear,” George said. “I said, ‘Grace, the police don’t really do that.’ She kept insisting I call the police.
“Of course, I didn’t do that. I told my daughter, who was still home in North Carolina, how Grace was so upset about losing this bear. She said she was going to try Facebook.”
The Facebook post that included a few photos of Smith with the bear was shared more than 1,300 times.
Former Starved Rock Lodge employee Edna Daugherty had been hiking and had actually photographed the bear in a crevice in a canyon wall. She informed Starved Rock Lodge marketing director Kathy Casstevens that the bear was found at Council Overhang.
After dropping off a group for an “Autumn on the River” tour, Starved Rock Lodge activities director Laura Guerrero went to Council Overhang and found the bear.
“I happened to have been over at Lone Point Shelter on a tour, so I took a quick ride over to Council Overhang, took a walk over there, and there he was,” Guerrero said.
“I did a couple adventures with him. He got to ride on the trolley. I took pictures with him on the boat and over at Buffalo Rock as well.”
The bear currently is in Guerrero’s office waiting to be shipped back to North Carolina.
“I’ve been in contact with her family,” Guerrero said. “Once I found it, I took a picture with the bear and sent it to them. They were extremely happy.”
Smith said she was “happy” she’d be getting her bear back.
“When I had him, I loved him,” she said.
Her grandmother was surprised when the bear was found.
“We were not thinking we’d find him,” George said. “I think it’s pretty amazing we found somebody who had him. We thought the chances of that were slim to none.”
Guerrero said she’s happy the little girl will be getting her bear back.
“I have a teddy bear I was very close to that I passed down to my daughter, so I know how important a teddy bear can be,” Guerrero said. “I’ve had this bear for 20-plus years. I’m glad my daughter is enjoying it. If it ever got misplaced, I would want it back.”
Casstevens said the story of the bear shows the positive side of people.
“It just reminded me there are a lot of kind people in the world,” Casstevens said. “Nobody stole the bear. Laura was able to walk right to it and find it.
“That was just amazing.”