Buddy the Elf is Grand Valley State University student Dave Westra’s holiday inspiration.
December marked a handful of lasts for Grand Valley State University (GVSU) senior Allison Hartwick — last time riding the bus, taking a final exam or seeing Buddy the Elf on campus. Wait, what? You read correctly.
The 23-year-old was sitting on campus preparing for finals when she spotted a 6-foot-4 lookalike of the 2003 Christmas comedy character.
“It was funny to see him because the previous weekend they had shown the movie on ABC Family,” Hartwick said. “He was just walking around and everyone was laughing. It was a good way of relieving the stress.”
That’s one reason why Dave Westra, 23, dressed the part.
When the senior transferred to GVSU in Allendale, Mich., from Grand Rapids Community College in 2010, he was constantly being told that he looked like Will Ferrell’s holiday character.
Their comments became a daily occurrence so, after talking it over with friends, he decided to purchase the costume.
He had it shipped overnight and went to his exams in character. Some professors ignored the charade while others thought it was comical, but every student he came across seemed to like it.
“Michigan gets pretty cold this time of year so it set up the winter wonderland theme,” Westra said. “From 30 feet away, people swore I was Buddy.”
He saw the joy his getup brought people and decided to make it an annual thing. But being a holiday staple isn’t all fun and games, and Westra takes the task very seriously.
He makes appearances at the two GVSU campuses days prior to the start of exams because his advertising public relations and public administration classes sometimes demand business attire.
On nights before his first appearance, he watches Elf to rememorize iconic phrases.
When people compliment him on his costume, for example, he promptly replies, “It’s not a costume. I’m an elf.” On occasion, he’ll answer his phone with, “Hey, it’s Buddy the Elf. What’s your favorite color?”
This year he decided to expand his visit of the downtown campus and spread holiday cheer to the less fortunate. He handed out hot cocoa to homeless passersby in the area.
Allison Rosbury, a GSVU sophomore, said she’s seen her fair share of costumed characters around campus. The 19-year-old said she saw a gorilla chasing bananas and a ghostbuster trolling for ghosts during Halloween.
Like college mascots and holiday Santas, these are somewhat expected campus sightings, but they lack the novelty of Buddy the Elf. Rosbury said his appearance is different from that of “holiday regulars” because the character is popular with all ages.
“The movie came out when current college students were children, so it definitely brings a sense of home and nostalgia to the campus, which is what the holidays are all about,” she said.
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