A Saskatchewan entrepreneur and the legendary Hutzel Harry

As the daughter of an entrepreneur, Theresa Sokyrka got roped into a lot of money-making schemes. The creation of Hutzel Harry was almost forgotten until, decades later, it showed up again out of the blue.

"When my dad saw it I'm pretty sure his pupils turned to dollar signs."

Two decades ago the Sokyrka family fundraised $900 for a Ukrainian folk fest pavilion by selling 219 Hutzel Harrys. Guess who showed up on a stranger's shelf nearly 20 years after getting stuffed? (Kim Kaschor)

A head full of sawdust can be associated with thoughtlessness, but for one Saskatchewan entrepreneur it was just the place to start for the hit that was Hutzel Harry.

Harry is a small nylon head full of sawdust and grass seed, that grows once he's submerged in water. It's an idea that Theresa Sokyrka's father, Harold Sokyrka, came up with 20 years ago after being inspired by a souvenir with a similar function.

"When my dad saw it, I'm pretty sure his pupils turned to dollar signs," said Sokyrka's daughter, Theresa, as she recalled the first night of Hutzel Harry's production in the basement of the family home. 

"We decided on Hutzel Harry. Hutzel were people from the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine, and Harry obviously because he grew hair."

Sonia and Harold Sokyrka join Sook-Yin Lee on stage at a live show in Saskatoon, after their daughter, Theresa, shared her story of Hutzel Harry. (Mark Tiu)

The sale of Hutzel Harry was a fundraiser for a Ukrainian folk fest pavilion in Saskatoon, and so the Sokyrka family and friends set out to sell 33 in total --11 Hutzel Harrys for each day of the big event. 

On the first day of the festival, Hutzel Harry sold out.

"You would not believe the panic and the excitement -- that all the Hutzel Harrys had gone in the very first few hours of the festival," said Theresa.

In response to the demand, the Sokyrkas reassembled in the basement. "They were quite easy to  make, these little things," said Theresa Sokyrka. "You would put half a cup of grass seed in, stuff as much sawdust as you could.

Theresa Sokyrka holds up one of the few Hutzel Harrys in existence at DNTO's Saskatoon show. (Mark Tiu)

"Before you'd tie it up my friend would make the ears and nose, send it over to my sister and her friend and they would tie up the bottom and glue gun the googly eyes on, send it down the assembly line to my mother who would paint the fabric puff paint smile, and my father was responsible for the copper wire glasses that would eventually go on to the grass seed dude."

For that second day of the festival, they had doubled their output of Hutzel Harrys. 66 in total. Those sold out, too.
"I remember being excited but almost depressed," recalled Theresa, "because I knew it would be right back into the basement for the next day making Hutzel Harrys."

And so they returned to the Sokyrka sweatshop, where this time they upped the number of Hutzel Harrys by 120.
The third day came and went, and as you might imagine, all the Hutzel Harrys were gone. In total 219 were sold, earning about $900 for the pavilion. 

It was a flash in the pan. Despite Sokykra's desire to move the assembly line into the garage for next year's production, the legend of Hutzel Harry ended there.

Or did it?

A few years ago Theresa and her sister were caroling and were hit with a blast from the past.

"We walked into the front room of this woman's house and on a book shelf staring me right in the eye was a Hutzel  Harry, like a rare fossil, it was unbelievable."

"After I had composed myself to say we made these things, the lady said it was just too cute to ruin him. And so 20 years on a bookshelf, displaying the Sokyrka sweat and tears, the nearly forgotten legend of Hutzel Harry will be living on through DNTO."