money to buy bears, a practice he
continued throughout high school.
Through the years, Marcia and Mike
have continued to be instrumental
in the planning process.
The kick-off cocktail party, held
annually ever since, has blossomed
into a major event with a prize
drawing for donated gifts that
have included airline tickets and
hotel stays. It’s held on the Friday
following Thanksgiving weekend
and is open to the public, with
hand-addressed invitations sent to
local dignitaries, elected officials,
city and county department heads,
prominent citizens, and local
business and community leaders.
Admission price to the party is one
newly purchased teddy bear. Guests
may bring their own bear of any size
or purchase one from the airport for
$10 at the door.
A few days before the party, the
city mayors of South Bend and
neighboring Mishawaka are invited
to the airport to place the first teddy
bears in the Bear Den — a fenced-in area displaying Christmas trees
decorated with teddy bears.
Local news stations cover the
event, while Daigle does live
interviews promoting Bears in the
Air during morning drive programs
on top-rated radio stations.
In the three years since Daigle
has been director at South Bend
International, three area hospitals
have received nearly 2,300 bears,
and the local charity recipient, the
Robert L. Miller Sr. Veteran’s Center,
South Bend (Indiana) International
Director Mike Daigle, A.A.E.
Daigle launched Bears in the Air
when he was director of LaCrosse
(Wisconsin) Regional Airport as
a way to repay the community for
its support. He began the project
by collecting newly purchased
teddy bears during the Christmas
season to present to children in
area hospitals. He has continued
the ever-growing program through
BEARS IN THE AIR:
AN AIRPORT DIRECTOR’S INITIATIVE
BENEFITS CHILDREN, CHARITIES
BY JULIE CURTIS
successive moves to Glacier Park
Airport (Montana) and South Bend
When Daigle served as director of
Glacier Park Airport, Bears in the
Air expanded from only collecting
bears to include selling a specially
selected bear to benefit a local
charity that honored a young soldier
killed while on active duty.
Planning for the first Bears in
the Air program involved Daigle,
his wife, Marcia, and their son,
Mike. Marcia developed the kick-off
party, while Mike started a program
in middle school to collect spare
change from students. He used this
;Mike Daigle, A.A.E., presents a bear to a hospitalizd child.