Friday, September 17, 2021

A decade later, the story of Daddy Bear still brings good memories and marks a change in the way we interact with the public

By Summer Derrey

We first started using social media with a job recruiting post on June 13, 2008 and were still just kind of getting our feet wet for a few years, not gaining a ton of audience interaction. And then came Daddy Bear.

Daddy what?

Daddy Bear. And yes, it's hard for us to believe that it's been a decade since a concerned grandma reached out to us for help. After that, our social media presence really took off.

Justice received Daddy Bear from her dad, who at the time was
stationed with the Army in South Korea.

In search of Daddy Bear
On Oct. 12, 2011, Patty Holland Sweeney reached out to us via a Facebook post for our help tracking down her granddaughter's lost teddy bear.

A plea on Facebook from a grandma asking for help tracking down Daddy Bear first showed us the
importance of connecting with the public via social media.

Patty's post made clear how important Daddy Bear was to her 6-year-old granddaughter Justice, and showed us what a powerful tool social media could be.

"At the time, I really liked Facebook and so my husband encouraged me to reach out to WSDOT that way," Patty said.

The lost teddy bear wasn't just any bear. It was given to then 2½-year-old Justice by her dad Chile, who was in the Army and stationed in South Korea, and she named it Daddy Bear. The very special lost bear was a reminder to a young girl that her dad was with her even though he was thousands of miles away serving our country. She slept with the bear. She took it to school. It was her best friend.

We knew we had to find Daddy Bear.

Besides asking our road crews for help, we turned to Twitter and Facebook, asking the public to be on the lookout. It got A LOT of attention and the public became invested in the plight of Daddy Bear.

Maintenance to the rescue
Two of our favorite maintenance dads, Harry Nelson and Terry Kukes, went searching and quickly located it on the shoulder of I-90 east of Cle Elum. Luckily, Daddy Bear appeared to still be in pretty good shape! Since that time, Harry has been promoted to Maintenance and Traffic Manager and Terry retired a few years ago.

Harry Nelson and fellow maintenance worker Terry Kukes rescued Daddy Bear from the shoulder of I-90 east of Cle Elum and reunited him with Justice.

"My daughter was very young at the time as well," Harry said. "She was in a horseback riding accident and so I got her a teddy bear too. I know how much it meant to Justice, and I was glad I found the bear."

A short time later, on their own time, they drove to Sedro-Woolley to reunite the Justice with her friend.

We announced on social media that Daddy Bear had been found and reunited with Justice, to much virtual applause from our social media followers. But it didn't end there.

The story to reconnect Justice with her lost Daddy Bear became a media sensation and hit the national headlines.

"ABC News wanted to watch the reunion and so they came to our door," Patty said. "At the time, Justice was very shy but happy to have her Daddy Bear back."

The story of Justice and lost Daddy Bear made national news.

An impact a decade later
A decade later, both Justice and Daddy Bear have changed a bit. Justice has gone from a shy little girl to a very outgoing teenager. She turns 16 today, Sept. 17. Daddy Bear is still going strong, though Patty has had to restuff him a couple times. One thing that hasn't changed much, though, is their importance to each other.

Another thing that hasn't changed is the kindness of our maintenance crews. At our maintenance shed up on Snoqualmie Pass we've seen our crews welcome cold, stranded motorists out of the snow. They have gone out of their way to provide a warm cup of coffee or two and even a spare Cup of Noodles.

Recently we've had workers rescue a kitten and a family of ducks on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and track down (and adopt) a cat on a Skagit Valley highway.

And it seems the generosity and willingness to help runs in the family. Harry's brother, Joe, recently helped a woman locate her lost bag on Snoqualmie Pass.

Our maintenance crews always go above and beyond to help. Earlier this year, Joe Nelson – the brother of Daddy Bear rescuer Harry Nelson – tracked down a woman’s lost bag near Snoqualmie Pass.

A rise in social media
Another thing that has changed is the importance of social media in our messaging and interaction with the public. We started with a Facebook page, one Twitter account, a YouTube channel and Flickr for photos. Since then, we've added a Facebook page for our ferries division, now have 13 Twitter accounts, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit and a blog to go along with YouTube and Flickr. Across all of those platforms we have well over a million followers who turn to us for news, information, updates, videos and even the occasional bad joke or two.

And it all really started with Daddy Bear.

1 comment:

Vasa said...

Thanks for sharing this! I’m delighted with this information, where such important moments are captured. All the best!

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