If you come across Paul Kadri you will find someone who can appear physically intimidating. His 5’11” 290-pound frame is paired with a deep and fast-talking voice. If you were to follow the normal stereotypes, you can imagine that he collects snakes, beer bottles, or license plates. One probably wouldn’t guess teddy bears. In this interview, he discusses how he got involved in this hobby and how it ties to his career.
Community Blog: For those who may not know, could you describe the origin of the teddy bear and how you started collecting them?
Paul Kadri: The name teddy bear comes from Teddy Roosevelt. As the story goes, while on a hunting trip, he refused to shoot a bear cub. Reporters began referring to that bear as Teddy’s bear. As far as the original teddy bear, I believe the German company Steiff made the first teddy bear around the same time, in 1902. I personally got involved during my freshman year in college when my girlfriend gave me a teddy bear. At first I thought it was a very strange gift, but then as I learned more about bears, I developed an interest in them.
Community Blog: Steiff is a very popular brand. Are there others as well?
Paul Kadri: Yes. You can find Steiff products in most toy or department stores. They are often in cases because they are expensive. They are known for having a tag bolted in the ear. The yellow tag means regular production and a white tag means special edition. There are bears from literally all around the world. Most of my bears are from Germany, England or the U.S.
Community Blog: How many bears do you have and what do you look for when choosing a bear?
Paul Kadri: To be honest, I haven’t actively collected since I became a superintendent years ago. I would estimate that I have about 200 bears of various values. What I’m probably more noted for is giving bears as gifts or to charity. When I buy a bear for my collection, there are two criteria that I look for. First, it needs to be of a collectible quality. Many stuffed animals are mass-produced. A collectible bear will very often be made in limited quantities by a reputable producer. Second, I have to like it. Most of the bears I have somehow make me laugh, and others commemorate a special event or time in my life.
Community Blog: Why did you choose bears versus something else?
Paul Kadri: I have collected coins and very much enjoy that. A bear is an unusual item. When you are young, it’s very much like having a dog. It doesn’t say anything, but you find yourself discussing important topics with it. In many ways having a stuffed bear allows children to reflect on what they’re experiencing by speaking to their bear. I imagine there is some psychology behind this.
Community Blog: To conclude, just how much teasing have you received from having this hobby?
Paul Kadri: More than you can possibly imagine. Ironically, more from women than men. You have to be pretty confident in your manliness to collect bears and admit you do. What is really exciting is that my daughter is now very interested in collecting stuffed animals from around the world. I hope one day that she and I will design our own bear and give it to needy children.
In addition to being a public school administrator, Paul Kadri has been involved in many charities and organizations that help children. While his hobby began inadvertently in college, it was an early indication of his commitment to the development of youth.