The following pays tribute to our recently deceased mascot, but mostly surrounds yesterday’s graduation ceremony, the day before his death.
Rest in Peace Thurber, 9/5/09-11/14/17.
On Monday, a beautiful autumn evening just before sunset, hundreds of ‘bulldogs for life’ strolled into the university’s Greek Theatre, proudly wearing maroon and grey. Ushers handed out miniature toy foam Thurbers to the lucky guests that arrived first while students set out maroon blankets on the grass lining the stage or found spots with their friends in the bleachers. Faculty, administrators, community members, and mostly, students, huddled together with tears in their eyes as they came to honor our beloved bulldog mascot, C.H Thurber, who has grown to be one of all of our dearest companions.
Thurber passed away this evening, just one short day after the community came together to honor his time with us. It was recently discovered that Thurber had fallen ill with two types of aggressive cancers. Because Thurber was getting older, he was scheduled to graduate from his position as mascot alongside the graduating Class of 2018 in April. But because of his poor health, University of Redlands senior Ben Galgano, Shelli Stockton, Direction of Alumni and Community Relations and the Maroon and Grey Student Ambassadors came together to organize an early graduation for Thurber so that we could all properly honor him for the support, company, and most importantly, the joy he has provided us all before he passed. Two of Thurber’s closest caregivers, the university President and Provost, the university chaplain, several members of university athletics and choir, and all of Thurber’s fellow bulldog companions were invited on stage to help officiate his ceremony.
In his introduction of the ceremony, Galgano explained that the bulldog has been the mascot of the U of R since 1918, originating from a suggestion by “the coach of a rival school who, after being beaten by the Redlands football team 20-0, was quoted as saying, ‘The U of R football team might well be called the bulldogs of the conference for the fight they put into the game.’”
This adoption of a bulldog as the university’s mascot has stuck ever since, and has become an icon of the University of Redlands and even the town as a whole. Thurber himself, who was the school’s mascot for the past seven years, became a town celebrity of sorts.
Janise Rick, Application Processing Coordinator in the Office of Admissions, became Thurber’s Grandmother, as she oversaw his care while he spent time at the Willis Center during the day. During her testament of Thurber, Rick explained that he is irresistible, especially to prospective students. Galgano also works in admissions and concurs.
“As someone said to me tonight, ‘Thurber is our Closer,’” Galgano said, reiterating Rick’s sentiment. “After the tours seeing him in Thurber Hall [his kennel] always gets families super excited.”
Thurber may be the Closer in Admissions, but for most students, Thurber has remained close throughout their college experience.
“I think my relationship with Thurber was like most others,” Galgano said. “He represented the U of R and was literally always there for us, whether that be in math class or at a sporting event.”
Beth Doolittle, who works as a math professor at the university, was Thurber’s loving and devoted mother. Thurber not only had a family within the Redlands community, but at home as well. Doolittle explained how Thurber was the man of their household, as she has two daughters of her own, of the human variety, who both considered Thurber to be their big brother whom they loved dearly.
As Doolittle walked to the podium to say a few words about her beloved pet, the entire Greek Theatre rose for an applause. Doolittle surely deserves this standing ovation, as she has been by his side through thick and thin and has worked tirelessly to help Thurber play an important role in campus culture. He even tagged along to her math classes.
“Although Thurber and his handler Beth Doolittle have supported every organization on this campus, there is no group to whom they’ve been more faithful than Bulldog Athletics,’’ Galgano said in his introduction of Henry Stuckenschmidt to the podium, who spoke on behalf of university athletics. “In support of student-athletes, Thurber and Beth [attended] literally hundreds of games and matches every year.”
The love Thurber and his mother gave to the university’s student body over the past seven years has been palpable, as it should be, after attending hundreds of athletic events each year. In a teary-eyed speech to a teary-eyed audience, Doolittle explained how much Thurber enjoyed going to student events and interacting with the campus in every capacity. She also thanked the countless number of people who have loved and helped take care of Thurber along the way, helping him live a full and active life. Doolittle also gave a special shout out to the cast of Spamalot, who gave tribute to Thurber in their production last weekend, which she said provided the audience and herself the “perfect comic relief” after hearing such heartbreaking news about Thurber’s health.
Thurber was rolled off the stage in his favorite wagon with two degrees and two minors, which provost Kathy Ogren called, “a perfect liberal arts education.” President Ralph Kuncl and Ogren, who give graduating students their diplomas, and suitingly did the same for Thurber, explained that since Thurber has been on campus for longer than most students, it only makes sense for his accolades to be vast.
Thurber earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, for all of those years spent in the math classroom with his mother, and in Psychology, for all of the counseling and comfort he has provided others over the years. President Kuncl explained that in terms of feeling better, Thurber is the best they come. Thurber also earned a minor in Theatre Arts, considering all of the hard earned tricks he’s acquired, including those with a basketball, on a skateboard, and his signature high five. Lastly, Thurber was awarded a minor in Human-Animal studies, as he has seemed to have mastered the dynamic between people and pets.
On Nov. 6, a notice was sent out via an all school email announcing that Thurber “has two aggressive cancerous tumors on his spleen and a mass on his heart.” A mere four days later, on Friday, an invitation was sent via an all school email inviting the Redlands community to honor Thurber by attending his early graduation ceremony, which would occur three days later. After coming up with the idea of an early graduation to honor Thurber, Galgano spoke with Stockton, who he said “was incredible with it all,” and “helped get all the guests, the president, made the ceremony official and came up with the script.” Galgano continued, “On top of this, Maroon and Grey helped plan and set it all up and tie the last strings together. Definitely a big team effort!”
The university community came together last minute to do something special for someone we all held very dear to our hearts. Their efforts were truly appreciated by everyone who loved our mascot. But Galgano said that it’s Thurber who really deserves most of the thanks.
“I’ve gotten a lot of thanks and good-jobs already tonight, but I think the most important people to thank are those who came out, everyone else who helped put my small idea into action, Professor Doolittle, and most importantly Thurber, for being the best bulldog and mascot we could ever ask for,” Galgano said.
Whether the ceremony was impeccably timed, or if Thurber stayed strong through the weekend because he sensed something important was soon to happen, we will never know. It is clear, however, that the campus is grateful they had one last chance to show Thurber how much we loved him.
Chaplain John Walsh, who also spoke at the event, said that he’d go as far as to say that Thurber has much more ahead of him, in whatever his next life may be. Walsh, however, hypothesized that he has at least a few Masters degrees in his future. But for now, we’re all grateful for the support Thurber has given us, proud of the achievements he has helped us all accomplish, and thankful for his great company along the way.
“I want to end by saying Thank You Thurber, you weren’t just a bulldog, you were a whole University’s best friend,” Galgano said.
all photos contributed by Taylor Matousek, University of Redlands photographer.