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Wally: The History Behind Wabash’s Mascot

No one can silently cheer on players and simultaneously pump up a screaming crowed quite like Wally.

One image from a series of Wallys Don Cole ’52 created for the 1956 yearbook that depicted student life at the time. “Club Man Wally was a real joiner,” Former College Archivist Beth Swift said in a blog post. “We have a couple of these charms in the Archives. Worn on the belt, each club had a different charm or key.”

Proudly sporting Sphinx Club’s red-and-white-striped overalls and pot on the sidelines of Little Giant Stadium, Wally is one of the most recognizable and beloved icons of Wabash College.

In the spirit of Homecoming, and with the help of College Archivist Nolan Eller, here’s a look into the history of the Wabash mascot.

Caveman cartoon

Don Cole ’52 gave Wabash the first Wally.

Cole, a cartoonist who worked for The Bachelor, Caveman magazine, and yearbook, was the originator of the character, with the first appearance of “Wally” in a 1948 Caveman. The cartoon character, as Former College Archivist Beth Swift described was “a gregarious fellow with a crew cut and a letter sweater.”

“The character was used to represent a typical Wabash student, so over time, as the student population and the artists changed, so too did the depiction of Wally,” Eller explained, “leading to various representations throughout the 1940s and 1960s.”

The character was first named Wally in print in a Bachelor article from November 9, 1956, published ahead of the Iron Key football game against Butler University. Running and dressed in a suit and tie with a briefcase in hand, Wally was pictured alongside text that read: “Wally Wabash, the man in motion, travels to Butler with deadly potion. Of Caveman might and Caveman mane, to bury the Bulldogs once again.”

Cole’s vintage Wally has made a popular comeback in today’s apparel, and can be found on shirts sold at  the Wabash Bookstore.

Paper mâché

The paper mâché Wally made its first football debut on September 29, 1973, at a game against Albion College.

Dave Walpole ’77 was the first student to fill the paper mâché Wally costume. In the fall of 1973, legendary Wabash Coach and Athletics Director Max Servies ’58 convinced Susan Smith of Crawfordsville to create the 15-pound art paper mâché Wally head. According to Wabash Notes from 1978, Smith, a student at the Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, spent 40 hours on the project.

Made of celastic and sporting “realistic-looking nylon hair,” as reported in the Wabash Notes, the head was only one-third of the weight of traditional chicken wire and paper mâché creations usually seen at that time.

Dave Walpole ’77, from Indianapolis, was the first student to fill the costume.

Steve Nokes ’79, the third Wally who continued the tradition even after graduating, was quoted in a 1980 Bachelor article, giving readers a look into what it was like being the paper mâché mascot.

“Wally is Wabash, and Wabash is Wally,” he said, “and I get a kick out of doing it.”

Today, paper mâché Wally is kept in Wabash’s Robert T. Ramsay, Jr. Archival Center. While currently not on display, it often makes appearances at Big Bash, Homecoming, and other special events on campus.

It’s official

Wally would not become the official mascot of Wabash College until the 2000s with the introduction of the “old” new Wally, Eller said.

The mascot made its debut at the October 5, 2000, Homecoming game against Oberlin College.

Wally would not become the official mascot of Wabash College until the 2000s.

As a Bachelor article reported at that time, “The first official Little Giant mascot in Wabash history was presented to the crowd for the first time toward the beginning of the halftime festivities. Wearing Sphinx Club stripes and topped off with a pot, Wally made his way to the stands in a red convertible. Pledges joined the superhuman-like mascot in tossing out hundreds of fun-size white footballs to the cheering crowd.

“The character danced to music, kissed babies, posed for pictures,” the article continued. “Many in the crowd were impressed by the herculean appearance of Wally. ‘I wish I looked that buff,’ John Essex ’03 concluded.”

Tom Sapp, owner of the design firm Real Characters, created the mascot for Wabash. Sapp's company has designed hundreds of characters for college and professional sports teams, corporations, civic educational programs, public and private schools, and many charitable organizations.

The creation of Wally took place over the span of several months, the Bachelor reported. Jim Amidon, chief of staff and director of strategic communications, said Sapp produced several drawings and the College ultimately decided to have him focus on one based on student feedback.

“It has long been a goal of our office to develop a graphic identity to our sports programs, and we are very pleased with the results,” Amidon told The Bachelor in 2000. “He will be involved in spirit, but we also hope that we can let him out to schools. Imagine the look on the faces of the kids if he made appearances at such things as the Malcolm X Institute during their tutoring program ... we believe that he can become a model of school spirit and community service.”

Wally today

In 2016, the “herculean-like” Wally got a makeover and transformed into the mascot we know today.

Wally is always happy to pose for a photo.Created by Avant Garb, a costume and mascot shop headquartered in Indianapolis, the new mascot was designed and inspired by the popular drawing of Wally that was found for years on license plates (which were also recently updated with the College’s new W. logo).

“That license plate has a wonderful drawing of Wally,” AvantGarb Owner Jennifer Smith wrote in a blog post about the special project. “I’ve been seeing those plates for years and I have wanted AvantGarb to get a shot at the Wally Wabash mascot for a long time. I was delighted when Wabash contacted us. … Wally was a great mascot to create.”

Wally makes many appearances throughout the school year on campus and in the Crawfordsville community.

In addition to home games, alumni celebrations, and other student events, the mascot has also recently visited local schools and the farmers market, where he’s eager to engage with the community members of all ages while proudly representing Wabash College.