By Robert Creenan
Over the past several years, students have been witness to a growing list of policy changes and renovations meant to boost student morale and reflect the strong nature of tradition and pride in the Canisius Jesuit spirit.
The image of St. Peter Canisius, standing tall in the center of the Bart-Mitchell Quad, accompanied by St. Isaac Jogues, S.J. are permanent staples of the campus, reflecting the sincerity of its roots.
While these icons remain relevant to the College’s mission, Canisius’ mascot Petey Griffin is a stronger moral boosting image. Usually outside of a school’s athletic facilities, there’s a mascot statue; placed there to pump up the students with pride in their school. Just look at University of Georgia’s bulldog, or the University of Maryland’s terrapin.
With the precedent clearly set by scholastic institutions around the country, a small contingent of movers and shakers have begun preliminary discussions focusing on pooling together the resources necessary to raise a larger-than-life Golden Griffin on College grounds.
The brainchild of two Canisius alumni, Mike Vavonese ‘80, a lawyer in Syracuse, and Mike Ervolina ‘79, the President of Valu Home Centers and member of the campus Board of Trustees, has piqued the interests of influential staff and students alike. Vavonese came up with the idea when his son, Matt, started shopping around for colleges. “One of the main focus that the tour guides would take is to the mascot statue,” Vavonese pointed out. “At Fordham, tour guides would take you to the ram statue. At Boston College, it’s to the golden eagle. And I thought, ‘Why not Canisius?’”
“There are three main things I want this statue to be,” Vavonese continued. “The first was to be a focal point for students and athletes visiting the school. The second is that at some schools, it’s a tradition for athletes to rub the statue for good luck before they play a game. The last, which was the one that convinced me that this needed to be done, was that when my son graduated from Penn State, the only place where there was a line for students to take pictures was for the Nittany Lion statue. Everyone had to have one before they left.”
Other places he looked convinced Vavonese as well. “A book I read, Prospects to College, shows students what they need to do on various campuses before they graduate there. All of them had a statue that you needed to touch. Inside Sports Magazine had a ranking of the top 100 college mascots in the country. We were #6, while St. Bonaventure was #80 and Niagara was in the 60s.”
It was at this point that Vavonese consulted friend and fellow alumni Ervolina about the idea for a Griffin statue. Building momentum, the two of them approached Director of Special Gifts David Misko and Associate Dean of Students Matt Mulvile about it. Looking to garner strategic support across the college, Mulville brought the idea up to Undergraduate Student Association President Rich Kubiak, who wrestled with the notion at first, initially finding it difficult to perceive the inherent value.
According to Kubiak, “as I thought about it more, I realized that this could be part of our tradition and culture as time went by. I’ve talked to student athletes and the Council of Representatives about it and people think it’s a good use of funds since it’s something tangible that the student body can see.”
Vavonese had found specific inspiration at Missouri Western State University, whose 10-foot wingspan fountain statue captures the iconicism in American collegiate life. The initial sketchings hope to dazzle the Canisius community in this same way, though more attuned to the imagery students are used to – resembling the leaping griffin on athletics logos. The chosen architect, Mark Palmerton from Oklahoma, has experience in school statutes and has promised the lowest cost and fastest delivery time. Based on the momentum behind this initiative it would seem that efficiency is a crucial aspect to the statue’s success.
Most importantly to graduating upperclassmen, campus officials want it ready by this year’s commencement.
Initial estimates had the statue costing between $120,000 and $150,000. Palmerton’s plan will cost $85,000 for the statue, with another $10,000 coming from delivering it to campus.
There are still many other pieces that need to settled before this statue is a done deal. The funding needs to be secured by a USA approval, as to whether that comes just from student money or alumni would contribute a significant amount as well. There are also three potential sites under consideration: in front of the Koessler Athletic Center, in front of Science Hall, and behind the chapel in the quad. Kubiak wants student input on the statue’s location in due time.
The running theme in regards to why people want this statue is a new campus tradition. When Mulville started working here, there weren’t any major campus traditions. “Now we have events for the Niagara game, the bonfire, Petey’s birthday, these are things that students will remember for a long time after they leave.”
Vavonese is confident that this statue will eventually come to fruition. “I had such great experiences here at Canisius and we felt it’s something we can do to help to make the experience a good one for the future.”