NEW YORK — The late Russ Berrie, former CEO and chairman of Russ Berrie & Company, and Judy Ellis, founder of the nation’s first baccalaureate program in toy design, are the newest inductees to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.
Established in 1984, the Hall of Fame comprises 59 individuals who have been previously recognized for their significant contributions to the growth and success of the toy industry. Berrie and Ellis were nominated from within the toy industry and selected by a vote of TIA members and previous Hall of Fame honorees.
"TIA is pleased to welcome Ms. Ellis and Mr. Berrie into the prestigious Hall of Fame," said Carter Keithley, TIA president. "They join a group of industry visionaries who have revolutionized the toy industry and have had a significant impact on the lives of children the world over."
Ellis launched the nation's first baccalaureate program in toy design at FIT in 1989. In this position, she has created for her students an environment that emphasizes ethical design and commitment to community. The FIT program boasts more than 350 alumni who work in leading toy design, manufacturing and inventor groups throughout the United States and across the globe.
More than 3,500 products are estimated to have been designed by FIT Toy Design Alumni, including Hasbro's Elefun Busy Ball Popper, winner in the Infant / Toddler category at the 2012 TOTY Awards; Mattel Fisher-Price's Sing-a-Ma-Jigs, winner in the Innovative and Preschool categories at the 2011 TOTY Awards; and Crayola's Crayon Town, winner in the Activity category at the 2010 TOTY Awards. Ellis has received two SUNY Chancellor's Awards for Excellence in Faculty Service and Distinguished Classroom Faculty, the FIT President's Award for Faculty Excellence and an award from the national Women in Toys organization for outstanding contribution to the industry. She holds a BFA in communication design from the Parsons School of Design.
Berrie founded Russ Berrie & Company in a rented garage in 1963. He built a small financial empire on stuffed animals and other toys, from his initial launch of Fuzzy-Wuzzies to its immediate follow-up with the Bupkis family and the SilliSculpt lines. In the 1980s, the Snuggle bear line prospered, followed by Troll-mania in the early 1990s. More recently, and since Mr. Berrie's passing in 2002 of a stroke, the company acquired plush licenses for DreamWorks Animation and the Madagascar brand, Marvel Inc. and Raggedy Ann and Andy.
Under Berrie's leadership, Russ Berrie & Company, or RUSS, became one of the largest gift companies in the world, with more than 1,500 employees around the world and some $300 million in annual sales. Berrie also devoted time, energy and resources to numerous charitable causes. Fortune magazine honored him as one of the "40 most generous Americans" in its Feb. 6, 1998 issue.
The 2013 ceremony honoring the latest inductees will take place at the 13th annual Toy of the Year Awards Saturday evening, Feb. 9, 2013 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. The ceremony will kick off the 110th American International Toy Fair. Ellis is expected to be present to accept her award in person.