The Tradition of the Southridge Stuffies
Erin McDonald

Like so many treasured traditions at Southridge, the history of our Kindie orca whales began with a family and their desire to give back to our school community.

Creating traditions is an essential part of the community culture at Southridge. Many of the customs, events, and symbols you see as part of the school community come from the early-year traditions established by founding parents, faculty, staff, and students. One of those unique traditions is the story of the Southridge stuffies.

As children, we associate the memories of certain people and places with the stuffed animals associated with that experience. Whether it’s a “get well” animal received during a medical procedure or the popular Mickey Mouse stuffie from that trip to Disneyland, the feelings associated with the toy can mean so much. Almost everyone has that one special stuffed toy from childhood. With this in mind, alumni parents Lorne and Barbara Kotzer approached Southridge about doing a custom plush toy as part of the welcome package delivered to our Kindies in 2013.

“Bringing a plush program to Southridge seemed like a natural way for us to give back to the school,” says Lorne. “As someone who has generational experience in the toy business, we knew how special this tradition could become to students coming to Southridge.”

Both of Kotzers’ children attended Southridge and credit their experience at Southridge for being a driving force for their personal and professional success today. “As parents, we believed strongly in the values at Southridge, which included “giving back,” explains Barb. “Given our expertise in the toy business, we thought our contribution in creating this program was a valuable way for our family to give back, both in value and expertise.”

The original plush project was the Kindie whale and custom sweater design. “Watching the Grade 12 buddies deliver the commemorative whale to their Kindie buddy and the excitement on the children’s faces is special, and we love that we were a part of creating that experience.”

The Kotzer family has involved themselves in many traditions and events at the school, including the stuffed animal “creation station” at the annual Southridge Country Fair, which they first started in 2004. “As parents, supporting this annual, community-building event was a highlight of the school year,” says Lorne. “It was fun to work with the community of volunteers to create an interactive experience at the fair where kids would build a toy to keep for years to come – I still have a copy of each edition we brought to the fair.”

More recently, the school turned to Lorne and Barb Kotzer to help create something special due to COVID restrictions cancelling the 2020 grad celebration events. To ensure our Class of 2020 felt extra special during this challenging time, they again helped create the ‘one of a kind’ Sal graduation stuffie. Having this commemorative stuffed Sal helped lift the spirits of our graduates and offered them a special way to commemorate their unique commencement day.

As the years go on and the school continues to grow and thrive, we want to honour those families for the impact they’ve had on our school – just like the Kotzer family. Little did they know that their contribution would lead to a lasting tradition that both students and parents cherish. It’s collaboration like this that makes Southridge such a special place.

Contributed by Erin McDonald, Alumni Relations/Events
Originally published in Spirit Magazine - Spring 2022