Paradise at Bearadise in Myakka, Florida
“I’m so rumbly in my tumbly”. You could almost hear these famous words uttered by one of the most beloved characters of all time, but I assure you, there is no Pooh and we’re we not in the 100-acre wood. We are, however, on a 15-acre sanctuary known as Bearadise Ranch in Myakka, Florida. This hidden gem is the home of the famous Welde family which includes nine beary adorable (couldn’t resist) brown bears and their human, Monica Welde, who I’m convinced is the real-life Wonder Woman.
Theirs is a beautiful love story – with a twist. Best friends who worked together for nearly 40 years, Monica and her late husband, Johnny D. Welde III, were certainly not your ordinary married couple. Raising three humans, as well as their beloved bears, one can only imagine the trust and love they had for one another. Just as it was for Johnny’s family before him, the bears were his life and passion. When he and Monica met and fell in love, she also fell in love with his beloved bears.
There is a quaint barn on the ranch, which has picnic tables and an adorable circus themed snack concession area which can be reserved for private events. Memorabilia of the Welde family’s appearances adorn the walls. There are posters of the bears in Disney films and photos with the uber-famous including Lucille Ball and Walt Disney himself. Baseball fans will get a kick out of photos of Yankee legend George Steinbrenner with the bears in full authentic uniform! I’m told he was such a fan, that the Yankees became a sponsor, and the bears would frequent his events at the stadium. However, none are as striking as the faded photo of Johnny’s beloved grandfather and namesake Johnny Johnson Welde as a young boy posing with his dancing bear in Norway. The senior Welde started performing at a young age with his bears which lead to the ultimate lifelong dream of joining the circus. Performing all over Europe, he was eventually recruited by a talent scout who arranged passage to America where he joined the legendary Ringling Bros & Barnum & Baily Circus in the 1940’s. The act eventually made it to Hollywood which led to countless appearances in film, television, commercials, and a slew of personal appearances. By this time, Johnny D. had followed in the family tradition. After his grandfather died in his late eighties, Johnny and Monica carried on the legacy and settled in Florida.
When Johnny D. sadly died of a heart attack in 2017, the entire family, including the bears, were left grief stricken and distraught. With determination and a deep love for the beloved bears, Monica did what any reputable super woman would do. She carried on the 90-year Welde Family legacy and continued to maintain the habitat that her beloved husband had built and was so passionate about.
The nine bears who reside at the ranch are not only well cared for, they are clearly loved and spoiled just like children. Watching them interact with Monica solidifies my suspicions that the love and respect works both ways. As she gives them treats of biscuits and honey (yes, they really do like honey), they happily pose for me as I take their photos. Needless to say, I am in awe and not just of the bears.
The bears are an absolute delight to observe. I learned so much about them during my visit. The bigger lesson, however, is one of carrying on in the face of adversity. Despite losing her husband and partner and dealing with all sorts of upgrades and additions to the ranch, not to mention the complete shutdown of public visits and appearances due to the pandemic, Monica remains the epitome of positivity and is hopeful for the future. And frankly so am I.
With guided tours, private events, personal appearances, Bearadise Ranch remains fully operational, and licensed, and is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture and is licensed with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The ranch happily is now re-opened to the public. Tickets are available via reservations only. If you’re anything like me, you’ll become enamored with Ginger, Carol, Max, Makita, Bruno, Bambi, Lucy, Baily, and Kodiak. You may not meet Winnie the Pooh, but you will meet a superhero, so please, DO bother!
Bearadise Ranch – (941) 322-2462
Photos by Sheri Nadelman