By Alexander Rivero
Thirty-five years ago this Spring, a few weeks shy of Easter, Elsie Walker of Landing thought it a good idea to help out her church’s Easter egg hunt by donning a bunny suit. Her pastor, who was new to the church at the time, told her that if she could find a suit, the church would be happy to have her. Walker found a suit on short notice—one that belonged to friend Bob Pasek, who stood at over six feet tall (she herself is only 5’4)—and wore it to the hunt, a practice she has maintained every year for nearly four decades now.
Since that inaugural year, Walker, who works as a freelance writer and professor of logic and critical thinking at the University of Phoenix, has expanded the scope of her Easter bunny persona. Not only does she continue to make her yearly appearances at egg hunts, but she has also regularly visited nursing homes, senior citizen centers, preschools—including one which has built a fifteen-year relationship with her—and has even entertained children via Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of her most memorable moments over her time as a volunteer bunny is the time she went to a children’s hospital where the kids were unable to use their hands very well. To show their support and enthusiasm, they pound on boards given to them by staff. It was inspirational to see these kids, recalls Walker, hooked up to all kinds of machines and devices, so eager to participate. She cites the ability to work with children and make people smile as her favorite part of the job.
“No question, the joy of the people when they see the bunny,” she says. “When people see the bunny, it’s almost as if they can’t help but smile.”
She often finds herself surprised by the degree to which people care about the bunny, too, as when she discovers one of the seniors she visits wearing a bunny pin on her lapel on the day Walker is scheduled to visit.
“I enjoy working with people, and it’s really wonderful to see some of their reactions,” she says.
Aside from her volunteer work in the bunny costume, Walker has spent the last twenty years working as a professor for the esteemed University of Phoenix, where she has had the pleasure and privilege of teaching people from all walks of life and from around the globe.
“I enjoy teaching very much mainly for that reason,” Walker admits, referring to the access she has to an international audience of students. “I’ve taught a lot of military people as well—deployed, veterans—and have worked with projects to send out care-boxes to former students that are deployed overseas. It’s been a very rewarding experience for me.”
As for her bunny costume volunteer work, Walker cites the annual community hunt—which she has been doing for almost forty years—as the height of her experience. Most meaningful to her is seeing former participants—now married, with children of their own—bring their families back and continue the cycle.
“It really is a joy to be a part of the community hunt now for two generations,” she says. “I remember one of the children, who is herself now a mother, reach for her kids and say, ‘now I want my kids to meet my bunny.’ I loved that.”
Walker is herself, not surprisingly, an Easter enthusiast.
“I have Easter eggs from all around the world, from about sixty different countries. All sorts. And I show them off whenever I can.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck down in early 2020, Walker went to Zoom to craft heartwarming messages for the children of the various organizations she was scheduled to visit, telling them how much the bunny would miss them this Easter, and to stay upbeat and positive. It was a difficult task for the outgoing and affable Walker, and was certainly a disappointment to the children who were anticipating the Easter celebrations.
But all seems to have returned to form ever since. Walker is ready to throw on the bunny suit once again in 2023, and is eager to see local children’s reactions.
“The best part of it all,” she says, “really is when you see a child come up to you and sit in your lap who was too shy or afraid to do so only a year before. Between that and seeing the parents come up to me and tell me they remember so fondly when they themselves were children gathering Easter eggs during one of our egg hunts with me as the bunny, I have a lot to be thankful for.”