Thursday, March 29, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'Hansa' does say it all

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Woodland Park Zoo's first baby elephant, Hansa, gained a name this week but lost the spotlight - upstaged by the girl who named her.

E-mails of delight have flown across the country in the hours since curly-haired Madison Gordon, who is 6 going-on-Carol Channing, won the name-the-elephant-baby contest Monday night.

After Hansa (HUN-suh) - which means "supreme happiness" in Thai - was picked from among 16,000 names, Madison promptly announced she was giving her winning prize of two roundtrip tickets to Thailand to her first-grade teacher, Susan Hoffman.

Yesterday, on the Today show, she reluctantly accepted two more tickets from Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, who teamed with Zoo Society President Dave Towne to coax Thai Airways into donating more.

She also received tickets from Alaska Airlines and KING 5's Evening Magazine to visit her grandmother in California.

Though it took her a while to warm up to the idea of going to Thailand, which she'll most likely do with her father, her instant generosity in thinking of her teacher touched people.

"Seattle must be a terrific place to live," wrote a woman from Montclair, N.J., who plans to visit soon to see the baby elephant and "maybe Madison, this new ambassador of the city."

Madison said she felt "supreme happiness" herself after winning.

"You got that right!" she belted into a microphone Monday night to an audience that included 89-year-old Dorothy Jewell Dike, who was 6 when she named Woodland Park Zoo's first elephant, Wide Awake, in 1921.

None of it surprises Hoffman, of Norman Rockwell Elementary in Redmond. "My land, honey," said Hoffman, who plans to go to Thailand with her husband, "I'm so excited, I can't stand it."

Hoffman describes Madison as an "emotive actress" with a knock-out vocabulary who reads at a fifth- or sixth-grade level.

Hoffman has told students she'd love to visit Thailand since her son studied there. So when Madison told her before she won that she had no interest in going, Hoffman teased her, "Just send me!"

Monday night, appearing perfectly at ease in front of hundreds at a banquet and tens of thousands watching on television, Madison told the crowd she couldn't go but she knew who would love to go. "I almost fell off the couch!" said Hoffman, who was watching from home.

It is the most spectacular gift Hoffman has received over the years, but it's appreciated no more than others. Two that come to mind are a recent visit from a former student to share news of his engagement and another to let Hoffman hold his baby.

"They give me so much just by showing their love," said Hoffman, a 28-year teaching veteran. "My land, you'd think I was retiring."

You can reach Sherry Stripling by phone at 206-464-2520.


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