- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - A worldwide celebrity traveled through the halls of Memorial Hospital of South Bend on July 15.

Those who spotted the 8-foot-tall picture book character - in plywood cut-out form - nudged others. “There’s Waldo.”

Yes, that’s right. Waldo, of “Where’s Waldo” fame.

A labor foreman working on the Memorial Children’s Hospital construction site came up with the idea to use the character in his iconic red- and white-striped shirt and stocking cap to entertain the children in the pediatric unit.

The search for Waldo - or Wally, as he’s known outside the U.S. and Canada - has been going on since 1987, when English illustrator Martin Handford created the elusive world traveler for his best-selling picture books, which encourage children and adults to search for the character in crowds and busy scenes.

Jason Haney is working for general contractor J.J. White on Memorial’s $50 million expansion. Since early spring, he has been hiding Waldo somewhere on the construction site within view of the hospital’s southern windows. When the children or others find him, they notify Haney and he moves Waldo to a new location and the search begins again.

The Waldo plan was hatched this winter after a snowman the workers put on the site created a stir among staff and patients.

“One of the electricians said he thought it would be funny if there was a Waldo,” Haney said.

Haney thought it was a brilliant idea. So, he cut an 8-foot-tall Waldo out of plywood and he and his daughter painted the character.

Many of the pediatric patients have chronic issues and are in the hospital frequently.

“It gives us something to talk about,” said Tracy Byler, coordinator of the Child Life Program at Memorial Children’s Hospital. “A big part of what we want to do is build relationships, so anything that gives us a chance to talk, like ‘Where’s Waldo,’ is great.”

Overall, the construction crew has been providing a lot of distraction and enjoyment, she said. “Jason came and played bingo with our kids.”

Another volunteer created construction site bingo cards.

Arrihanna Williams, 7, and another child enjoyed watching as the crane above the hospital moved a big load of materials. When asked, Arrihanna was quick to point out where Waldo was standing from the playroom window.

Down the hall, 9-year-old Neveah Garza was in contact isolation and unable to leave her room. But her window overlooked the construction site and she enjoyed watching the men at work.

“Poor guys, they have to work in the sun,” she said.

In the past, she’s hunted for Waldo in library books and on an online site, she said, explaining how that worked. But it was a bit of a challenge to find the character at the building site.

“Mom found him first,” she said, pointing down at the site. “See he’s down there, by that fan thingy.”

When she discovered that the man who built Waldo was outside her room, she asked to have a photo taken with him. Haney was happy to oblige.

He’s pleased when he finds that Waldo has helped take a child or parent’s mind off whatever problems they are facing.

He remembers what that’s like.

When his daughter Taylor was 3 years old, she suffered a stroke.

“She had to go to Riley, because this wasn’t available here,” he said. At first, they traveled to Riley every three months, then every six months. Now, 14 years later, Taylor visits once a year.

In the beginning, doctors weren’t sure she would learn past third grade, Haney said. But she proved them wrong. She graduated from John Glenn High School and plans to attend Ball State University to study biology and zoology. Her goal is someday to work with tigers.

But she also has inherited her dad’s artistic talent and helped him paint Waldo. They also created a couple of Minions - the little yellow characters of animated movie fame - who are dressed like construction workers.

The Minions will make an appearance at the construction site soon, Haney said.

Memorial’s staff has enjoyed searching for Waldo as much as the kids. Some of them follow his travels on the “Where’s Waldo: Memorial Children’s Hospital” Facebook page, posting photos and questions.

The most comments, Haney said, came on the heels of the last thunderstorm. He had placed Waldo on the crane that week.

After the storm, The Tribune published a photo of lightning spiking across the South Bend skyline. It showed one bolt striking the crane.

Haney said, “Everybody was asking, ‘Is Waldo okay?’ “

He was.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/2aiQwys

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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