Dr. Seuss still lives in the hearts of college students

November 10, 1993|By Suzanne Perez Tobias | Suzanne Perez Tobias,Knight-Ridder News Service

Doug Hesse wants the whole world to discover -- or rediscover -- the soothing, amusing, stress-relieving qualities of his favorite author, Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel.

And perhaps no one needs The Doctor more than your average college student.

"There's a lot of pressure on you in college," says Mr. Hesse, 23, a photojournalism major at the University of Kansas. "You're taking tests and working and trying to make it on your own.

"I think it's a time when you rediscover your childhood a little bit. You pick up a Dr. Seuss book and say, 'Hey, I remember this. I used to love that story.' "

Mr. Hesse formed the Dr. Seuss Club about three years ago, after hearing about a similar club at the author's alma mater, the University of Massachusetts. About 35 people attended the first meeting at KU, and Geisel himself sent a letter authenticating the club.

But not until recently has it been recognized as an official student organization, earning student senate funding and its own listing in the campus telephone directory (beside such established groups as Phi Beta Kappa and the Juggling Club).

"I guess you could say we met with a lot of opposition in the early years," Mr. Hesse says. "We really weren't taken seriously."

Even so, when Geisel died in 1991, Mr. Hesse received cards and other shows of sympathy from students and faculty members.

"People were coming up to me and saying, 'I just heard. I'm so sorry,' " Mr. Hesse says. "It was kinda weird, because I'd never even met the man."

Now the club has more than 200 members, and campus readings regularly attract large crowds. Dedicated members meet twice a month to read and discuss Seuss' work, drawing from an extensive library of books donated by local bookstores and others who support the club. At a recent gathering, members listened to a cassette of comedian Billy Crystal reading "Horton Hatches the Egg."

But the group's primary mission, says Jessica Perinchief, this year's president, is spreading the gospel of Seuss to the younger generation. Members frequently visit elementary schools and hospital pediatric wards.

"When you see these kids, it's amazing," says Ms. Perinchief, 18. "They're absolutely fascinated by these books. Some will say the words along with you, and if you read something wrong, they'll tell you.

"And some haven't even seen a Dr. Seuss book before, which I think is absolutely horrifying."

Mr. Hesse said his favorite Seuss story is "The Lorax," an environmental fable in which Super-Axe-Hackers chop down all the Truffula Trees, smogulous smoke drives away the Swomee-Swans, and Gluppity-Glupp and Schloppity-Schlopp force the Humming-Fish to find new water.

"They're intelligent books," Mr. Hesse says. "Anybody can enjoy the rhyme and rhythm, but when you get older, that's when you appreciate the message."

Ms. Perinchief still likes "McElligot's Pool," for what you might call childish reasons: "It's all about fish, and I like fish."

Mr. Hesse and Ms. Perinchief are not alone in their fascination with Dr. Seuss.

As more teens and twentysomthings rediscover the literature of their childhood, businesses are plugging into -- and cashing in on -- Seuss' popularity.

At Gadzook's, a Wichita clothing store that caters to teens and young adults, "Green Eggs and Ham" T-shirts and "Cat in the Hat" hats are hot sellers.

"Customers usually kind of giggle when they see them because it brings back memories," says Melanie Myrick, a manager in training at the Towne West store. "Dr. Seuss is pretty hip with the college crowd."

"This is the time in a person's life when you're being sort of shoved into growing up. Everyone wants you to act like an adult," Ms. Perinchief says.

"So when you get a chance to be a kid again, you grab onto it for dear life. Dr. Seuss makes you feel like a kid again."

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