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Once Upon a Mouse

Six feet high and bigger than life, he welcomes every child and family who step off the elevator and enter Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo. But this isn’t just any tiny mouse dressed in Renaissance garb.

This is Alfunz -- the whimsical champion of all things fun! He presides at Sanford Children’s Clinics, too. And soon he’ll appear in many more places.

But who is he? What does he do? Where -- and when -- was he born?

An interview with Alfunz

Pull up a toadstool and listen as Alfunz describes his beginnings. “I was born in the mountains” he says, bringing the microphone closer to his whiskers. Then he pulls a tattered family photo from his vest pocket.

With a soft, furry paw, he points to his mother -- a Pika. Then his dad -- a Dormouse. “That makes me a Peeka-Door,” he says proudly. “But I just think of myself as tan, fuzzy and happy-go-lucky.”

He giggles, but turns serious when he talks about his important work with children. “I love helping them feel better,” he says. “Even when kids are sick, they still have a heart for play and a spirit of adventure. I take their minds off illness. Medical experts say it fosters healing -- and I certainly agree.”

The wisdom of Alfunz prompts questions about his age. He looks off in the distance. “I have no idea, but I know who you can ask,” he says.

He reaches in his pocket for another picture. “Ask Hans,” he says. “And please, give him my best.”

Meet real-life artist Hans Gilsdorf

Hans’ story of Alfunz begins in a hospital. In 1997, Hans and his wife spent long, worrisome weeks at the bedside of their daughter Kendra, born prematurely and with complications.

She eventually needed heart surgery -- more appointments, more hospital stays, more treatments. Hans saw firsthand what a stressful experience medical care could be for children and families.

Kendra recovered -- and Hans came away with a dream: “I wanted to find a way to take my talents and make a difference for kids,” he says. “I envisioned a bright, colorful world that would transport them from the often intimidating equipment and procedures of the medical setting.”

Hans had the gift to make his dream come true, including seven years in the film industry. He created special-effects sets and costume for movies such as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” He also sculpted realistic, full-size animals -- from dinosaurs to wallabies and everything in between -- for world-class museums, parks and zoos across the country.

But his biggest project ever? “Kendra’s bedroom,” he says. To lift her spirits and distract her from health issues, he painted a series of lighthearted murals. They evolved into an elaborate “I Spy” alphabet game. She loved it!

And so began Gilly Art -- interactive, whimsical art that brings joy and play to children and families in medical settings. Gilly Art Studios officially opened in 1999, when Hans and his family moved to northern Minnesota.

And Alfunz? He was born a short time later -- and given a very fitting name. In “Mousean” it means “all fun A - Z.” And given a very fitting prop. He carries a paintbrush, a symbol of his love of art, color and creating joyful pictures and places.

Aflunz hits the road

Alfunz sees a world of possibilities wherever he goes.

This fall he and friends begin an epic journey, taking them to Sanford Children’s hospitals and clinics in South Dakota, Oklahoma, California and the world. Rumor has it Alfunz might even make “live” appearances in several communities.

Safe travels Alfunz! And we can’t wait to see where you appear next.

With both paws, Alfunz grabs the microphone one more time: “Hey, did someone say fun?”

Posted Date: August 2011