"Original" Rocky to Serve as Parade Grand Marshal
October 8, 2013
MACOMB, IL – In September 1959, the first English Bulldog joined the Western Illinois University family to serve as the University's official mascot. While two other four-legged Rockys have been a part of Western after the "original" arrived in 1959, [other Bulldogs served as "unofficial" mascots over the years], it wasn't until 1973 that the "two-legged" Col. Rock (aka Rocky) costumed mascot made his debut.
Claude Lewis, a senior communication arts and science major, came up with the idea in 1973 for a costumed mascot to replace the recently retired four-legged mascot. It was only fitting that it was Lewis who donned the first costume, which was made out of paper mache and fabric, created by a designer in Florida.
Lewis, who is the vice president of human resources for Senior Flexonics GA Precision in Franklin, WI, will return to the WIU campus this weekend to serve as the Homecoming Parade Grand Marshal, where he will once again slip on a Rocky costume and ride alongside the current costumed mascot.
According to Lewis, he came up with the idea on the way to Daytona Beach, FL with his Delta Sigma Phi fraternity brothers after a side trip to the newly-opened Disney World during Spring Break. After seeing all the costumed characters around the park, Lewis' idea for Rocky was born. He made his debut that September at a football game.
"I really don't remember a lot about my first performance as Rocky, but I do recall that it was pretty hot during that first football game and it was a little difficult to get around in the costume," he recalled.
While Lewis was the man behind the idea (and the mask), his time in the costume was fairly short-lived.
"The powers-that-be were a little on the conservative side, and I had a little too much fun as Rocky," Lewis laughed. "I wore the costume for a few games, and then turned it over to another student. While my stint was short, it was fun and the mascot has lived on."
The appearance of the costumed mascot has undergone many transformations since that original papier-mâché mask debuted 40 years ago, most recently this fall when Intercollegiate Athletics updated Rock's costume once again. Rocky is a constant presence at games and athletic events, Discover Western days and other University activities, where he gets the crowd revved up, displaying his signature dance moves and high fives.
Just as Rocky's look has evolved over the years, so have his antics. And being Rocky takes a lot more than just slipping on a costume and running around a field or arena. The student taking on the larger-than-life persona has to be able to handle being inside a costume when temperatures soar, while maintaining a vigorous pace and entertaining a crowd.
According to Cara Cerullo, WIU head cheerleading coach (football) and Rocky's "handler," the student selected to wear the costume must prove to be an entertainer. The mascot is chosen through try-outs each spring, and as part of the rigors of travel and performing, is rewarded with a book scholarship. The cheerleading coaches and other judges select the mascot. Tryouts consist of a mini-performance in uniform and responding to a questionnaire. Once the lucky person is selected to wear the uniform and represent WIU, he/she attends the University Cheerleaders Association (UCA) Mascot Camp during the summer to further hone his/her mascot skills.
"Rocky is a memorable and essential part of Western Illinois University athletics traditions. He is a vital marketing tool for the University, but more importantly his contagious spirit and enthusiasm serves to energize any crowd at University events," Cerullo added. "The students behind the mascot are held to the same standards as WIU cheerleaders, and must be willing to devote large amounts of time. They will not be known by name throughout their experience leading the University, but they will have made a name for the University."
COL. ROCK/ROCKY TIMELINE*
Sept. 25, 1959: A two-month-old English Bulldog, purchased by the Student Government Association, arrived at WIU to serve as the first official Leathernecks mascot. The breed is the traditional mascot of the U.S. Marine Corps, of which Western shares its Leathernecks nickname. Dr. John Story and family served as the caretakers of the first pup.
Oct. 14, 1959: The Student Government Association Executive Council selected the name Col. Rock for the new mascot from more than 200 entries in a naming contest. WIU student Richard Stevenson submitted the winning name.
March 28, 1962: Col. Rock weighs in at 85 pounds. While the pooch lives with the Storeys, WIU students Steve White and Redman Lyons serve as Rock's handlers.
Oct. 31, 1964: The 90-pound Col. Rock takes part in his fifth WIU Homecoming. Steve Schada and Don Runge of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity serve as Rock's handlers.
February 1966: Col. Rock passes away.
November 1966: Capt. Dale A. Luster (a recruiter from the Marine Corps League of Chicago) was instrumental in assisting the Corps' purchase of Colonel Rock II, a.k.a. "Rocky."
Nov. 15, 1967: Rocky (Col. Rock II) enrolls in obedience school at Double-J Training Kennels in Galesburg.
Nov. 25, 1971: A 900-pound solid concrete replica of Col. Rock II is donated to Western by The Country Restaurants, Inc. of Lyons, IL. The sculpture was created by Herman Morrill of Carmi, IL.
Sept. 25, 1973: The six-year-old Bulldog retires due to respiratory problems.
September 1973: Claude Lewis becomes the first costumed Rocky mascot.
August 1992: The first "cartoon" or graphic Rocky (and his girlfriend, Rocketta) debuts.
May 15, 2010: 10-week-old Col. Rock III, joins the Western family. Joe Roselieb, director of residential facilities, serves as Rocky's handler and caretaker. Col. Rock III was donated to WIU by Richard and Beth Siess of Siess Ranch in Kansas, through the efforts of George Visoky.
* Timeline information and photos provided by University Archives and Special Collections from Western Couriers and Sequel yearbooks.