Beacon and Blaze: Valpo’s New Mascots

On Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, Valparaiso University announced its two new mascots: a golden retriever, named Beacon, and a chocolate labrador, named Blaze. These two colorful characters are the results of 500 days of brainstorming, deliberation, and refinement by an extensive group of University faculty, staff, and, most importantly, students. 

The University is excited to enter into a bright future with the new mascots, but it is important to understand how we got here, the University’s connection to canine companions, and how Beacon and Blaze will impact Valparaiso University events. 

A School and Its Dog

Valpo’s relationship with our canine companions reaches all the way back to the late 1930’s with the University’s first canine icon — George “The Dog” Kumnick. A stray mutt found living on the steps of Altruria Hall, the young puppy was quickly adopted by H.H. Kumnick, Ph.D., and his family. Professor Kumnick served Valparaiso University as a faculty member and dean of the department of religion. 

Professor Kumnick was also the dorm director of Lembke Hall in a time when the position meant a faculty member and their family would take up permanent residence in the dormitory. Thus, the hall also became a new home for George. 

George’s fellow residents at Lembke Hall quickly took to their new mascot. If a student received a care package from home containing any sweets or snacks, it was almost certain that George would be given a sample. 

A faithful companion, George would follow Professor Kumnick wherever he went on campus, quickly becoming a recognized fixture of the University in his own right amongst the students, faculty, and staff. It was rare for George to miss a lecture, and when Professor Kumnick’s daughter became a student, George was there to accompany her to class, too. Had he been eligible to receive credit for the classes he attended, George would have earned three bachelor’s degrees over the course of his life! 

George passed away on April 11, 1947, and was buried by a tree near the railroad tracks on campus. His tombstone reads “In Memory of George: Our Faithful Campus Dog, 1939–1947.” His memory and legacy continue to this day, where it’s said that a student looking for some extra luck on their exams can kiss his headstone. 

 

The Search for a New Mascot

After the decision to make Valpo’s new nickname “the Beacons,” the search was underway to identify a mascot as well. The president’s office, in conjunction with alumni engagement, quickly realized that the decision was best left to those that the mascot would represent the most: Valpo students. 

“The characters are about the students’ connection to Valpo, and to athletics,” Carolyn Whittier, Ph.D., ’16 MBA, assistant vice president of student life, says. “It’s not symbolic of our ethos or mission. It’s for fun.” 

Twelve students were selected to form a representative cross-section of the University student body, including members of the student senate, those studying graphic design, and Valpo student-athletes. 

While the idea of a friendly dog was a prominent one from the start of the process, several other options were considered by the student committee. Many were tied to the word “beacon,” the concept of light, or other landmarks around the Valpo campus. A lightning bug was a major contender in the early discussions, as well as some enthusiastic, and not-so-enthusiastic ideas. 

“They really didn’t want it to be a dancing lighthouse,” Assistant Vice President Whittier says. 

What Assistant Vice President Whittier and Steven Janowiak, M.Ed., vice president of student life, had to impress on the committee the potential for creativity they had in front of them. The mascot in no way had to be related to Beacons or light, much like the Crimson Tide of Alabama are represented by an elephant. This opened up a slew of new possibilities, especially when the committee realized there was no rule that said they could only have one mascot. 

The idea of a golden retriever named Beacon came quickly, and while the students knew the canine would have a chocolate lab for a companion, the second dog’s name had to be workshopped extensively before the name Blaze was settled on. Despite the naming struggle, both the student committee and the president’s council quickly saw the potential in the new mascots, not just as friendly characters with lots of potential for crowd interaction, but as symbols that could bring all groups on campus together. 

“When you’re making characters, you have to try to understand how they could be negatively symbolic to someone else,” Vice President Janowiak says. “With dogs, we couldn’t really come up with anything.”

 

Meet Beacon and Blaze

After countless hours of searching, questioning, and refining ideas, the two new mascots were set in stone. Of course, simply ordering animal costumes is not enough to make a character a university mascot. They have to have a personality and unique traits that make them stand out. Thanks to the hard work of students, faculty, and staff, Beacon and Blaze are packaged with big personalities to bring to the court or field. 

Much like your average golden retriever, Beacon is a hyper, excitable creature, but not one to bark out of turn. Beacon loves running around campus, getting pet on the nose, and playing catch, but has a profound dislike of squirrels and Indiana State University’s mascot – Sycamore Sam. 

Blaze, conversely, loves to bark, and while just as high-energy as Beacon, is more balanced in his behavior. Blaze’s preferred spot for pets is behind the ears, and is a big fan of nachos, but is not so much a fan of Northern Iowa University’s rival mascots — TK and TC Panther. 

The reception on campus for the new mascots has been overwhelmingly positive, with students fully embracing the new faces of Valpo events with enthusiasm. 

“We’re super excited. It was so fun to watch the students get so excited,” Assistant Vice President Whittier says. “So many people have asked me on campus where they can get a Beacon and Blaze shirt.”

Beacon and Blaze are set to join a number of colorful, largely animal-themed mascots in the Missouri Valley Conference, including Bruiser the Bruin (Belmont University), Reggie Redbird (Illinois State University), and Sparky D. Dragon (University of Illinois). The pair will be staples of major University and community events throughout the year, including football and basketball games, Homecoming, the Popcorn Festival, and so much more. 

Whether it’s in athletics or around the community, Beacon and Blaze are ready to bring a new kind of entertainment to any event and get everybody excited about the wonderful community at Valparaiso University. 

“It has felt very good. It feels very Valpo,” Assistant Vice President Whittier says. “It feels in line with how our University presents as wanting people to feel welcome here and wanting to extend the hand of friendship.”