Jerry the Bull­dog

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Rex Nel­son

Summer normally is a quiet time on a univer­sity cam­pus, but dozens of peo­ple fill the lobby of Brown Hall at Arkansas Tech Univer­sity in Rus­sel­lville late on this hot Mon­day af­ter­noon. They’re here to cel­e­brate the fourth birth­day of a bull­dog. He’s not just any bull­dog, mind you. He’s Jerry the Bull­dog, which the school’s Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion has des­ig­nated the of­fi­cial cam­pus am­bas­sador.

The story of Jerry goes back to the early years of Arkansas Tech, which orig­i­nally was the Sec­ond District Agri­cul­tural School fol­low­ing the pas­sage of an act by the Arkansas Leg­is­la­ture in 1909 to es­tab­lish four district in­sti­tu­tions. The other three district schools went on to be­come Arkansas State Univer­sity at Jones­boro, South­ern Arkansas Univer­sity at Magnolia and the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Mon­ti­cello. Rus­sel­lville was cho­sen as the site of the Sec­ond District school fol­low­ing a spir­ited com­pe­ti­tion with

Fort Smith, Mor­ril­ton and Ozark. In­ter­ested cities were re­quired to pledge at least $40,000 and 200 acres. Rus­sel­lville threw in free water and elec­tric­ity for three years.

The na­tion­wide move­ment for such schools was led by the Farm­ers Ed­u­ca­tion and Co­op­er­a­tive Union, which was ded­i­cated to slow­ing the de­cline of ru­ral life in America. The school ini­tially served high school-age stu­dents. The Sec­ond District Agri­cul­tural School opened in the fall of 1910 with 186 stu­dents, and had grown to 350 stu­dents by the fall of 1913. In Fe­bru­ary 1925, the Leg­is­la­ture changed the name of the Sec­ond District Agri­cul­tural School to Arkansas Polytech­nic Col­lege. Wil­liam O. Young served as the busi­ness man­ager at the school from 1917 un­til late 1941. In the mid-1930s, he had a bull­dog named Jerry.

The Young fam­ily has been as­so­ci­ated with Tech for a cen­tury. Wil­liam O. Young had a fa­tal heart at­tack while quail hunt­ing in the days fol­low­ing the December 1941 at­tack on Pearl Har­bor. His son, Robert A. Young Sr., went to work for the school in 1942 and served as what would be­come known as the vice pres­i­dent of ad­min­is­tra­tion un­til his re­tire­ment in 1984. Robert A. Young Jr. is a re­tired Rus­sel­lville den­tist who con­tin­ues to be an ar­dent sup­porter of the school and its ath­letic teams.

Par­tic­u­larly fond of the first Jerry were mem­bers of Na­tional Guard Bat­tery F. That’s why ROTC stu­dents es­cort the cur­rent Jerry at Tech ath­letic events. A 1930s ar­ti­cle in the stu­dent news­pa­per, the Arka Tech, said the original Jerry showed “de­ter­mi­na­tion” and had only one bad habit—chew­ing on shoes. A Feb. 26, 1936, ar­ti­cle said Jerry was “al­ways present at any­thing of im­por­tance at the ar­mory,” which hosted home bas­ket­ball games at the time. When Jerry died in late 1937, an Arka Tech head­line read: “Cam­pus loses mas­cot in pass­ing of Jerry.”

“My grand­fa­ther lived just across the street from cam­pus,” Robert A. Young Jr. says. “Jerry would wan­der over to his of­fice at 11:30 a.m. each day and stay un­til 5 p.m.”

Tech history pro­fes­sor Tom DeBlack, who re­cently com­pleted a book on the school’s history, de­scribes both Jer­rys as “the most pop­u­lar an­i­mate ob­jects on the cam­pus.”

Times haven’t al­ways been easy at Tech. DeBlack writes in the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Arkansas History & Cul­ture: “The on­set of the Great De­pres­sion ad­versely af­fected the al­ready pre­car­i­ous fi­nan­cial con­di­tion of the state’s in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing. … Be­cause of fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties as­so­ci­ated with the De­pres­sion, the Leg­is­la­ture had dis­cussed abol­ish­ing the agri­cul­tural schools it had cre­ated barely 20 years ear­lier.” More prob­lems came with the on­set of World War II when males joined the armed ser­vices. Tech’s en­roll­ment dropped to 133 stu­dents in the fall of 1943. Empty dorm space was used by mem­bers of the Women’s Army Corps and naval air per­son­nel who trained there.

In re­cent years, Arkansas Tech has been among the fastest-grow­ing col­leges in the re­gion with more than 12,000 stu­dents now on cam­puses at Rus­sel­lville and Ozark. The cam­pus biography of the mod­ern Jerry says he “rep­re­sents an ad­mirable char­ac­ter­is­tic that has de­fined Arkansas Tech for more than 100 years— per­sis­tence.”

Sev­eral years ago, Sam Strasner, Tech’s di­rec­tor of univer­sity re­la­tions, came across the story of Jerry and de­cided to re­vive an old cam­pus tra­di­tion. Strasner ob­tained a bull­dog puppy from a breeder in Ok­la­homa in Sep­tem­ber 2013. After a month of train­ing, Jerry came to a meet­ing of the Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, whose mem­bers promptly pro­claimed him as the cam­pus am­bas­sador. Tech’s ath­letic teams had be­come known as the Won­der Boys in the 1920s fol­low­ing a news­pa­per de­scrip­tion of its pow­er­ful foot­ball squad.

“It’s a great team name, but we never re­ally had an ob­ject to­ward which Tech stu­dents and alumni could ex­press af­fec­tion,” Strasner says. “It’s hard to hug a news­pa­per story. Now we have Jerry.”

Jerry lives with Strasner and his wife Heather. The dog av­er­ages about three days a week on cam­pus dur­ing the school year. He at­tends ath­letic events, vis­its stu­dents and even greets prospec­tive stu­dents and their par­ents. At the birth­day party, peo­ple line up to pet Jerry and have pho­tos taken with him.

Strasner is hop­ing there won’t be a 76-year break be­tween bull­dogs this time around. He named the new am­bas­sador Jerry Charles Young and is hope­ful there’s a Jerry Charles Young II, a Jerry Charles Young III, and many more bull­dogs in Arkansas Tech’s fu­ture.

Se­nior Editor Rex Nel­son’s col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette.

He’s also the au­thor of the South­ern Fried blog at rexnel­son­south­ern­fried.com.

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