Who’s that cat in the funky hat?

If we didn't have birthdays, it wouldn't have been the 110th anniversary of Dr. Seuss' big day. And if he'd never been born, well then it might have been a wee bit odd for a fellow in a red-and-white-striped hat to be reading to youngsters at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center. But we do have birthdays, and on Monday, Mayo Clinic volunteers were out in force and with flair to celebrate the legendary children's author by reading stories about funny-colored eggs (and ham), colorful fish, cats in hats, and let us not forget, elephant birds.

Seuss760Mayo's volunteers hand out children's books at the Children’s Center every weekday, it turns out – in fact, they give out about 500 books every week to young visitors. And on Monday, five volunteers also read a little Seuss to youngsters who were here at Mayo Clinic for appointments.

That fellow in the hat is Bill Wellnitz, a retired teacher who volunteers at Mayo Clinic and dispenses the written word every Monday and Tuesday on Mayo 16. He's done that for more than two years now, although we have yet to receive confirmation about how often he's done so while wearing that snazzy Cat in the Hat hat.

Maycee Schieck, age 3, was a little shy when the camera came around, but her mom thinks she'll enjoy her new book. "I remember reading these as a child, and I will read it to her …  I love to read," says Sara Schieck, of Brownsdale, Minn. "I really appreciate the gift to my daughter." Joseph Martinez, age 1, from South Padre Island, Texas, seemed to like his book (but we think he really wanted that hat). "It's exciting to get a new book," mom, Iris, says. "It makes us feel welcome so far from home."

And that's exactly the idea, according to Susan Pronk, Mayo Clinic Volunteer coordinator. "The volunteers really enjoy interacting with the children and their parents to help lighten their heavy load of concern as they wait to see the caregivers," she says. "It is not necessarily giving a book, but also the conversation. Some of the volunteers do magic or science tricks. They all have their own special way of interacting with the children to make their wait more comfortable."

The Mayo Clinic Volunteers keep the books coming through periodic book drives, donations by various departments, contributions from staff through the popular Parking Amnesty program, and other channels. Mayo has also received book donations through the Read Indeed program, a nonprofit started by a fifth-grader who at age 8 started collecting and distributing books to needy kids. The Mayo Clinic Children's Center has received (and given away) about 2,000 books through that organization alone.

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