'Flat Gracie' slips into her uncle's heart
Pickerington Elementary geography project goes nationwide

Thursday, May 29, 2003

ThisWeek Staff Writer

By Lorrie Cecil/ThisWeek

Grace Hoagland, 9, shows off a photograph of her cutout self-portrait in front of a Route 66 sign. Hoagland's uncle, Bob Hoagland, is traveling the country with the cutout, taking pictures of it in front of various monuments. The cutout was part of a project in Cheryl Way's third-grade class at Pickerington Elementary School. Students sent their self-portraits to loved ones around the country and waited for them to be returned.



Nationally known author Jeff Brown tells how his popular children's book, "Flat Stanley," was inspired by a night when one of his sons wouldn't let him leave the bedroom. The boy was casting about for something to be afraid of so daddy wouldn't go.

He picked the bulletin board above his bed, saying it was going to fall on him.

His father said that was ridiculous, that it wouldn't fall and even if it did, it would fall slowly. It wouldn't even wake him up if it landed on him.

Not knowing to quit when he was ahead, Brown then told his son, "Of course, when you wake up in the morning, you'd probably be flat."

According to the author's Web site, that little family joke evolved into a children's story about Flat Stanley, who, in a series of books, travels the world.

But the books' true success has been the Flat Stanley project. Just ask Pickerington Elementary School third grade teacher Cheryl Way.

"I read it to the kids," Way said. "A little boy gets flat and slips into a suitcase and that's how it starts."

With the Flat Stanley story as a beginning, the students make their own Flat Stanleys -- paper drawings of themselves -- which they then call "Flat Joey" or "Flat Gracie," etc.

Then they choose a relative, friend or anyone else who might help them who lives in a faraway place -- Hawaii, say, or wherever the kids like. They mail their Flat Stanley to their friend, who then photographs Flat Stanley on the beach, by the redwoods, in the mountains or in the Big City, and then mails the photographs and the Flat Stanleys back to the students.

It's a source of great joy and interest for the kids, and it exposes them to a bit of geography, too, Way said.

But there's a little more to this Flat Stanley story.

One of Way's students, Gracie Hoagland, 9, decided she would send her Flat Gracie to her Uncle Bob Hoagland, who lives in Fort Myers, Fla. Uncle Bob was going on a motorcycle ride, and he said he'd take Flat Gracie with him.

It wasn't just any motorcycle ride, though.

A little more than two years ago, Hoagland's son, Matt, then 17, was in a car accident with his best friend and their girlfriends, said Jack Hoagland, Gracie's father. The other boy was killed immediately. The accident happened on a Wednesday, and by Saturday, Matt had no brain function.

Bob Hoagland had to choose to discontinue life support.

"Obviously, it was a pretty traumatic time," Bob Hoagland said. "It was tough to get going again."

After suffering with the loss for most of that two years, Hoagland made a choice.

"I decided I would jump on my bike and go for a ride for charity," he said. "I researched just tons and tons of children's charities, but finally, I decided the Children's Make-A-Wish Foundation had everything I wanted."

The ride started May 3 in Fort Myers, with Hoagland riding his Harley Davidson Electraglide Classic through Atlanta, Memphis and Louisville to Chicago, then following U.S. Route 66 to Santa Monica on the West Coast, then traveling back through Phoenix, Las Cruces, N.M., Austin, New Orleans and then back to Punta Gorda, Fla.

Jack and Bob Hoagland both said a lot of people wanted to join Uncle Bob on his 6,600-mile journey. But Uncle Bob said no: He was going to do it alone -- with his son, Matt.

"I took a picture of Matt and taped it to the inside of my windshield," Bob Hoagland said. "I was looking at it all 6,000 miles."

In Punta Gorda, which is about 20 miles from Fort Myers, 30 or 40 fellow area bikers will meet Hoagland and escort him home, where a big, blowout party was scheduled for Saturday, Memorial Day weekend.

Jack Hoagland, who helped organize the journey and its charity sponsorship, said his brother has raised about $25,000.

Those interested in the ride or the charity may see both at www.mattsride.com, where they can also see a photo of Gracie, Cheryl Way and Pickerington Elementary. Flat Gracie can be seen at www.jackhoagland.com/graciesclass.

Flat Gracie can be seen pretty much everywhere.

"I told her I'd guarantee her an 'A'," Bob Hoagland said.

Way said the class has loved it all.

"He lost one son, but he's gained 26 children," Way said. "We all call him Uncle Bob, and the kids say, 'Where's Uncle Bob today?'

"It really makes things richer and more personal."

Bob Hoagland is comfortable today. The ride worked.

Gracie Hoagland said she's very happy that her uncle could take Flat Gracie with him.

"I made her, I drew her like me, but I didn't have pigtails," Gracie said. "I wanted a story for him, to remind him of his son.

"This is very fun for him. I hope he makes it back soon."





Thank you for supporting the Flat Stanley Project. www.flatstanley.com