It’s hard to imagine a time when Ashland University was made up of only 75 students and eight faculty members. Even harder for one to imagine is a plain Ashland campus, unadorned with its signature eagle statues; or a football game without our beloved mascot, Tuffy.
But such a time did exist, before the faculty, students and campus communities of years past had given life to Ashland. It was these people who made Ashland their home, and gave it traditions all its own – some of which we still see practiced on campus today.
Several of these traditions developed between the different classes as a way to bond or to show rivalry or seniority. Freshmen, for example, were forced to distinguish themselves from upperclassmen, by wearing a beany – or a “dink,” as it was known at Ashland. This began in the early 1900s and continued until the 1980s.
“The dink was a requirement of all incoming freshmen,” explained Ashland University Archivist David Roepke. “It was to be worn from orientation week until Thanksgiving break.”
Students also showed class rivalry by painting the Blarney Stone. This stone was given as a gift from the Ashland College class of 1914. It was placed near Founders Hall, and remains there today. For many years, it was tradition for classes to paint the rock their class colors.
Over the years, this tradition has evolved into a regular practice among fraternities and sororities as a way to show pride for their chapter. Heather Wickline ’12, an integrated social studies major, is a member of Order of Omega, Rho Lambda and Panhellenic Council and says painting rocks has been one of her fondest memories as a member of the Greek communityat Ashland.
“Chapters paint the rocks to show the campus that they are proud of their chapter, and what they stand for,” she explained. “During rock painting, you share the same pride in your chapter as everyone else does, which makes our bond to each other that much stronger.”
Another one of Ashland’s oldest traditions practiced between students was the passing of the goat. According to Roepke, it became custom to pass a stuffed goat from the senior to the junior class in the early 1910s. During a morning chapel service in spring semester, the goat would be passed to a member of junior class, who would then take charge of the stuffed animal until the following year.
“The tradition came out of the early years when some of the faculty members used to keep live goats on campus to provide goat’s milk,” Roepke explained, “and to keep the weeds down around the buildings.”
But the most notable element of Ashland University’s tradition and history is the eagle, which serves as its mascot. This was not always the case, however. Prior to 1932, the mascot was the Purple Titan. According to Roepke, a campaign to rename the athletic teams and a proposal adopting the eagle as the new mascot was started by Paul Metzler, a student at the College.
It was in 1941 through the actions of a few Ashland College students when the eagle really began to have a presence – the first metal eagle statues began appearing on campus. At the time, this statue was a trademark of the J. I. Case Company, a manufacturer of agricultural equipment. It was often placed outside of the company’s dealerships.
“During the dark of night the statues would be stolen from these dealerships and appear on the Ashland College campus,” Roepke said. The first of these statues, who eventually became known as “Louise,” appeared near the original site of Founders Hall. With each passing year, more of these eagle statues began showing up on campus, usually in front of newly built halls and buildings.
In 1965, Case donated the trademark and rights of their signature eagle statue to Ashland College. This was the same year the University officially adopted Tuffy the Eagle as its mascot.
Today, 25 eagle statues can be found across campus, each with its own name and story. Some have even become a regular part of students’ lives. It is tradition, for example, that a coin inserted in the slot on the back of Louise’s head brings good luck during finals.
Even basketball players have used Louise for good luck at the start of each season. Ashland alumnus and former basketball coach Roger Lyons, who also played basketball while attending Ashland from 1970-74, learned that several of the University’s coaches that came before him would often visit Louise for good luck before the start of the season.
“This interested me because the basketball program was coming off some really difficult years,” Lyons said. The very first game of that year’s season was against West Virginia Tech, who had an outstanding team at the time. “I had to do something different to get the boys fired up before the first game.”
The night before the first game, Lyons walked his team over to Louise, who had been moved in front of Miller Hall, and had each of the players drop a penny into the slot of the lucky eagle’s head.
The next day, the team took home the victory against West Virginia Tech in double overtime. Lyons made the decision right then and there that he would continue the tradition for the rest of the years he coached at Ashland. He went on to become the University’s career wins leader with a record of 237-167 over 16 years as head coach.
“If your players or people believe in the tradition, that’s what makes it important. Not the story behind it,” he said. “It’s the meaning behind the eagle that counts.”