Like all superheroes, Tigard’s own Teddy Bear Phantom holds his identity close to his chest.
By day, he’s a mild-mannered 86-year-old, not quite retired business owner. By night and weekends (and sometimes by day), he’s at the ready, stuffed animals in hand, to help children through some of their roughest moments – though most never meet The Phantom.
Though we, here at Tigard Life, spoke with the Phantom’s mild-mannered alter-ego, we’re sworn to secrecy.
“If you’re going to talk about the Phantom, don’t talk about me. That’s the purpose of the Phantom,” he said. “The Teddy Bear Phantom gives because he or she stands for giving without caring for a reward.”
And, give he does.
The day we spoke, he had recently purchased 500 stuffed animals from Kohl’s, where he buys frequently.
For more than two decades, The Phantom has reached deep into his own pockets to buy tens of thousands of stuffed toys and pass them on to helper non-profits wherever he goes.
Ronald McDonald House, Bethlehem House of Bread, The Caring Closet, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church – the Phantom works quietly, donating by the hundreds to organizations that see children through their roughest moments.
We caught up with him on a recent afternoon when an in-the-know group of retired educators were honoring the man behind the metaphorical mask for decades of his generosity and kind deeds.
In November, the local Oregon Retired Educators Unit #34 named him its Inspirational Person of the Year during its anniversary celebration and silent auction.
“He does everything behind the scenes. I think he truly is an inspiration,” said the woman who nominated him, Paula Levine.
But it’s not just his work as the Phantom they were honoring. He and his wife of 63 years have a garage regularly stuffed with goods they’ve bought and collected from others to donate.
“He is the collector for this unit,” said friend and neighbor Charmaine Lindsay. “If we bring food items that are on (a food pantry) list he’ll be the delivery driver. If we donate to the Caring Closet, he’ll be the one to collect the items and bring them over.”
His original story began as a young man, long before the Phantom emerged.
“I was a volunteer fireman here when this (area) was part of the Tualatin Rural Fire Protection District (predecessor to the modern day Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue),” he said. “We used to keep a stuffed toy in between us on the truck. I was the engineer. We’d go to a fire, and if a kid was there, we handed it to him. He needed it.”
Later, his wife recalled, he reignited the tradition by giving through Tualatin-Tigard schools.
“I’ve always done things differently,” he said. “Put it that way.”
Before semi-retirement, he owned a small company that built magnet systems for cranes, scrapyards, junk yards, and demolition sites across North America.
These days, he continues to work remotely from home as a consultant in the industry, but at one time, he traveled regularly for work, mostly in the Western US and Canada, sometimes as far as Hawaii.
Wherever he went, he left time for the Phantom to swing by a local hospital or Ronald McDonald, a non-profit that provides housing near hospitals for families whose children need medical care far from home.
The Phantom’s origin story dates back to the turn of the millennium during a 2000 hospital visit in Longview, Wash., when staff pressed him for a name and address. They wanted to know who they should thank.
“As I was leaving, I heard someone ask ‘Who was that?’’’ (and another worker answer) “he said he was the Teddy Bear Phantom,” he recalled. “Suddenly, I was born. I was better off than the Lone Ranger, and I didn’t have silver bullets.”