About Western

Facts and Traditions

Western Illinois University's purple and gold school colors date back to the opening year of the Western Illinois Normal School in 1902-03. First-year student Mary Jarvis, inspired by the surrounding "vast golden prairie strewn with purple coneflowers," suggested the combination for a schoolwide contest. The purple and gold ribbons she displayed for the contest are on her framed 1906 diploma, which can be seen in the Malpass Library University Archives.


Rocky the Bulldog is the mascot for Western Illinois University athletic teams. This two-legged caricature had its start in 1958 when a live four-legged English Bulldog, purchased by Student Government, was marched throughout the football stadium during home games. He was named "Colonel Rock" in honor of Western's legendary Athletic Director and Coach Ray "Rock" Hanson, a Marine colonel. In 1971 a 900-pound cement statue of Rocky was set in place just north of the University Union, adjacent to Hanson Field. The statue was moved to the stadium's entryway when the facility was updated in 2002.

Col. Rock III, WIU's third live mascot, joined the Leatherneck family in May 2010 and retired in May 2018. He passed away Jan. 25, 2021, just shy of his 11th birthday. The mascot collar passed to Col. Rock IV -- aka Ray -- in June 2018.


What’s so special about Western Illinois athletics team nicknames? Men’s and women's intercollegiate athletics teams are The Fighting Leathernecks; and Western Illinois is the only public school in the U.S. with permission to use the nickname The Fighting Leathernecks.


Leathernecks sports compete at the NCAA Division I level as members of the Ohio Valley Conference. 


Western may be the only school to have a fight song (We Are Marching On), an alma mater (Western Loyalty) and a third song known perhaps as well as We Are Marching On – the Marching Band’s crowd-pleasing rendition of – Georgia on My Mind. (Lyrics and MP3 files of the songs are available on the Alumni website.)

Founders’ Day - Sept. 23

Western's annual Founders' Day celebration was established by Donald S. Spencer in his inaugural presidential year (1994) to honor the beginnings of the University that evolved from the Western Illinois State Normal School with 229 students when it opened its doors Sept. 23, 1902 to today's university which offers a comprehensive curriculum in the arts, the sciences and numerous profession. In 2002 President Al Goldfarb incorporated a State of the University address into the Founders’ Day celebration with his inaugural speech.

Purple & Gold Day - April 24

At Western’s April 24, 2000 Centennial Celebration closing ceremony, Board of Trustee Chair Lorraine Epperson read a proclamation declaring April 24 as Purple and Gold Day; a day to wear with pride our school colors and to establish a new tradition that builds on the history of WIU and the pride that is felt by the alumni, faculty and students.

Student Creed

We, the students of Western Illinois University, having learned from the past 100 years, reaffirm the values of excellence in higher education as established by our founders.

As a member of this community…I will challenge myself to uphold the highest standards of scholarship and integrity in my learning. I will strive to create understanding, respect, and openness to difference among all members of my community. I will strengthen my community and its members by actively advancing the goals that better Western Illinois University. We recognize these values as evidence of a successful past and as keys to a promising future.