‘Buddy the Elf’ lookalike brings smiles to GV campuses

GVL / Robert Mathews
Buddy the Elf

Robert Mathews

GVL / Robert Mathews Buddy the Elf

Kari Norton

Have you seen Buddy the Elf strolling around the Grand Valley State University campuses lately? We assure you, he’s not an end-of-the-semester stress-induced hallucination.

Buddy has been brought to life at GVSU by student Dave Westra, who has become the character for the past three years as a stress reliever for himself and his fellow students around the end of the fall semester.

If you tell Westra you like his costume, he’ll tell you that it is, in fact, not a costume. After all, what else is Buddy the Elf supposed to wear?

Three years ago, when Westra first transferred to Grand Valley State University from Grand Rapids Community College, people would randomly stop him just to tell him he looked like Buddy. After consulting with some friends who were behind the idea, he decided to go ahead and purchase the outfit and has since become the campus Buddy.

“Sometimes I feel like Buddy the Elf has become more of a beloved Christmas character than Santa,” Westra said.

Westra picks two days the week before exams to dress up as Buddy the Elf – one day for his Allendale classes and one day for his classes downtown. He only does the two days at GVSU because he doesn’t want to over-kill the joke.

“Literally at the end of the day my cheeks are sore from smiling all day long because I can’t help but smile when I’m Buddy the Elf and everybody is running up to me and smiling,” Westra said. “I think the thing that makes it worth it though is the number of people that come up to me, who say ‘You just made my day’, especially when it’s almost exam time.”

Westra said he loves the movie “Elf” and he watches it every year before he dresses up to get into character and re-memorize lines. If prompted, he will quote the movie.

This year when he was dressed up downtown, he accidentally knocked over his drink and said, “I’m such a cotton headed ninny muggins.”

Westra also makes it a point to hop across the lined crosswalks while in character.

“My main goal when I’m dressing up is to match the character as much as possible,” he said.
When it comes to being Buddy, Westra has to plan double the amount of time to get places because he is constantly being stopped for pictures. He was stopped five times just walking from West B, where he is a Resident Assistant, to the Kirkhof Center.

His Buddy the Elf days weren’t limited to GVSU this year, he also planned to go downtown and pass out hot chocolate to homeless people with a couple of friends while dressed in character.

“This has always been kind of a stress reliever for me and hopefully for others around campus,” Westra said.

The first year Westra did Buddy the Elf, he tried to establish himself as the ‘campus Waldo’ the following semester, but was trumped when a student who transferred to GVSU dressed up as the character the next year.

If it wasn’t for the logistics of it, Westra would have also liked to dress up as Pacman and have people dress up as ghosts and chase him around campus or do something with Mario, Bowser and Princess Peach, he said.

“I’m not going to be here next year, so someone is going to have to do it,” he said. “Someone who looks like Buddy the Elf is going to have to step up. It’s got to be a tradition bigger than just me. There’s got to be a Buddy the Elf.”
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