A new and improved Ranger Bear mascot was revealed, as most Drewids (hopefully) saw upon returning from spring break. The new bear is complete with cartoonish eyes, a cooling fan inside and an array of blue and green swag to wear to school events! But most Drewids may not know about the school’s original mascot, the Eastern Gray Squirrel. So in order to honor Drew’s fascinating mascot history, this week’s article will explore the introduction of the squirrely mascot, and where exactly it went.
When Drew’s College of Liberal Arts opened in 1928, the school lacked an official mascot; administrators wanted students to help choose what symbol would represent their school. In mid-December 1928, after a successful first semester of operation, President Arlo Ayres Brown opened a polling station in the lobby of Brothers College. Students were able to suggest the mascots that they thought appropriate, one such mascot being the eastern gray squirrel. While there are no records stating exactly who suggested the squirrel, there is some insight into why students may have sprung for such a choice. A November 1929 edition of The Acorn spotlights an interesting member of the Drew community: Richard “Squirrel” Smith (C‘32). Smith, originally from Allentown, Pa., brought an interesting talent with him to campus. Smith, a “big guy with a gentle heart,” was known to befriend squirrels around campus. According to the spotlight article, Smith was frequently seen “sitting on one of the many benches around campus with a small brown paper bag full of peanuts that he would shell to share with the squirrels.” Smith, who was widely popular amongst his peers, was also central to campus life, so when the squirrel was pitted against a groundhog, a mockingbird and a seven pointed buck, it is no surprise that the eastern gray squirrel won in a landslide.
The felted (and somewhat creepy) mascot costumes that Drew students are accustomed to now were not yet popularized when Brothers College’s first mascot was chosen. Instead, Smith helped tame an injured squirrel that he would bring to sports games, school dances and first-year orientation. Eventually the creature was named Sir Asbury to commemorate Francis Asbury himself. Sir Asbury, fed a healthy diet and kept in a spacious enclosure in Mead Hall, lived an estimated 12 years following his induction as Drew’s living mascot. He had gone through eight student handlers after Smith’s graduation. Following the loss of such a beloved member of the Drew community, Sir Asbury was taxidermied and then put on display in Mead Hall. According to a September 1941 edition of The Drew Acorn, a new furry friend had been found for the start of the school year. Another squirrel affectionately called Junior helped keep morale high during the war years as Drew hosted troops and welcomed female students. Two more live squirrels, unnamed for the sake of sparing Drew students’ attachment and subsequent tears, followed.
By 1969, Drew had adopted its first costumed mascot named Smithy in honor of the original mascot handler. The mascot would attend athletic events, make yearly appearances at traditional events and show up just in time to spread cheer during finals season. The costume would be used until 1975, when student athletes, concerned that the squirrel would make Drew athletics teams appear small and weak, called for the mascot to be changed. A black bear (even though there are no bears on campus) was chosen to represent the school. While some students argued that losing the squirrel mascot would be a massive hit to campus life and tradition, the university went ahead with finalizing the decision. Smithy was phased out slowly, appearing alongside Ranger Bear briefly in 1976 and 1977, appearing for the last time on April 1, 1979. Sadly, the University Archives were not given the squirrel suit, and its current location is unknown. Some speculate that the costume ended up in the basement of Tolley while others believe it was respectfully buried in the forest to lay the memory of the mascot to rest.
While the official mascot of the school remains Ranger Bear, students can rest assured that the squirrel is still remembered in advertising, on event posters and lively running around campus throughout the year. Since a mascot is something meant to unite an institution in school spirit, I think it can be safely said that Smithy, Junior or Sir Asbury did their jobs well!
Jo-celene Stafanick majoring in never leaving the library.