'The dog is everywhere': Stuffed canine brings comfort to new military mom

A mother's yearning to do something special for her daughter, a recent high school graduate who recently left home for basic training with the U.S. Air Force, has gathered surprising momentum.

In short order, a stuffed toy dog named Max — or his paper counterpart, “Flat Max” — has visited several schools, a Navy boot camp graduation, holiday events and all around the Grayslake area.

Along the way, Max's travels have generated messages from home to Air Force recruit Madeline Bauman, who has loved dogs all her life and wants to be a canine trainer in the service.

“The dog is everywhere,” said Madeline's mom, Michele Bauman. “People are taking Max on adventures and I don't really know where's he's going.”

Madeline has wanted to be a canine trainer since she was young, he mom says. She named all her dogs Max and always had stories of how she and Max went on adventures saving people, Michele Bauman said.

On Nov. 19, Madeline joined other area recruits at a Milwaukee hotel then made the trip to boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

As the first on her mom's side of the family to join the military, Madeline's decision has elicited waves of emotion for Michele Bauman — pride, fear, concern, anxiety and sadness among them — knowing her daughter no longer would be the little girl she has known.

“It changed me. I was so sad,” she said.

About a week ago, Bauman got a 30-second scripted call from her daughter with an address where letters could be sent.

“She was crying when she spoke the words but I know every day it will get a little bit easier for her,” said Michele Bauman.

Bauman, the Avon Township supervisor and a Grayslake resident, said Max soon popped into her head. She posted on Facebook about how it would be fun for people to take Max out for the day to continue his adventures.

“I wanted letters. Letters are like Christmas,” she said. “When you get a letter from the community, you stay connected. I want her happy.”

Sharlene Lee, a friend and first grade teacher at Indian Hill Elementary School in Round Lake Heights, jumped on board.

“I thought, 'Oh, that's cool.' I'll take (Max) to my classroom,” she said. He went to lunch with the youngsters.

“Oh, my goodness, the kids loved it. I wish we could have kept him more than a day,” Lee added. So, she figured a way to get Max anywhere and everywhere simultaneously.

She created a Facebook page called “Max's Adventures” with a link for visitors to print a “Flat Max” wearing a military cap, fatigues and dog tags. Lined paper with space for messages also is available.

“They are writing about adventures they do with Max,” Lee said.

Stories and photos are making their way to Madeline, but she doesn't have the “full concept of what's happening,” said Michele Bauman, adding that the campaign also has boosted her spirits.

Part of that is because of the Max campaign. Another reason, are the connections she has made, like the Blue Star Families support group. She said she wants to expand opportunities for others in the same situation.

“We want to start something here. I want to have a place families can connect,” Bauman said. “Max is a messenger for so much.”

Max looks over first-grader Clara Hansen Foster's work at Prairieview School in Hainesville. The stuffed dog has been visiting schools, holiday events and other places throughout Lake County as part of a campaign to lift the spirits of U.S. Air Force recruit Madeline Bauman and her mom, Michele. Courtesy of Amanda Kurzeja
  Michele Bauman at her Avon Township office discusses a stuffed dog name Max and his counterpart "Flat Max" as something special to connect with her daughter, a recent high school graduate who just left for basic training in the U.S. Air Force. Mick Zawislak/
Madeline Bauman and her Air Force recruiter, Ben Wakefield. Courtesy of Michele Bauman
Junior Miss Avon Township Tahlia Zequeida with Max. Courtesy of Melissa Zequeida
Round Lake Beach Mayor Scott Nickles, Teen Miss Avon Township Bella Miller, Junior Miss Avon Township Tahlia Zequeida, Elf Nathan Nickles and Little Miss Avon Township Charlotte Bryson with Max. Courtesy of Melissa Zequeida
First-grade teacher Amanda Kurzeja with, from left, Xavier Whigham, Bella McWilliams and Alyssa McFarlin and Max at Prairieview School in Hainesville. Courtesy of Amanda Kurzeja
First-graders Bella McWilliams, left, and James Grosvenor with Max during a recent class at Prairieview School in Hainesville. Courtesy of Amanda Kurzeja
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