Dawn Weimer - Cougar Statue Artist
History of the SIUE Cougar Mascot
By Amanda Bahr Evola and Stephen Kerber
Louisa H. Bowen University Archives
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, August 1999 ©
(Any use or reproduction of the materials contained herein without the written permission of the authors is prohibited.)
In June of 1966, SIUE students and administrators decided to choose a mascot for the university and the following October, student Chris Henderson submitted the idea of a cougar mascot. During the Fall quarter of 1967, President Delyte Morris and his administrative staff reviewed the possibility of a live mascot for SIUE. Following this review and after consultation with the student body, administrators agreed to obtain a live cougar mascot. The live cougar mascot would be acquired to build recognition of SIUE, to promote school spirit and unity among the students, and to distinguish SIUE from its sister university in Carbondale by developing a unique symbol for Edwardsville.
The Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity was given the task of locating a cougar to serve as SIUE's mascot. The fraternity formed a committee which was headed by student Walter Parrill and began the search for an available cougar. While at a constitutional convention at the University of Houston, the committee found a possible lead. Richard Poston of the Delta Omega chapter of APO indicated that he knew of a cougar cub that would be available at little or no cost except transportation. Parrill and the committee explored this lead and the cub was donated to SIUE by Mrs. Nonette Lewis in memory of her deceased son, Thomas Blackshear.
Blackshear had acquired one of two cougar cubs born at the San Diego Zoo on August 26, 1967. A short time later, Blackshear was killed in a plane crash. The Robert Sandle family took care of the cougar in their home until January 23, 1968 when they contacted the APO fraternity and asked them to turn over the cougar as soon as possible. Walter Parrill and Warren Stookey, APO advisor and executive director of the SIUE Alumni Association, flew to Houston on February 18, 1968 to pick up the cougar. The first cougar mascot flew to St. Louis via Braniff Airlines and the cougar arrived on campus on February 19, 1968.
The cougar weighed approximately sixty-five pounds and was four feet long from head to tail. She was initially housed at the nearby Hawthorne Animal Hospital until suitable on-campus housing for her could be erected.
During Springfest 1968, a "Name the Cougar" contest was held and Mary Ann Kucinick submitted the winning entry-"Chimega." Chimega means cougar in the American Apache Indian language. The cougar had originally been named Daniel by Thomas Blackshear, who later changed her name to Danie upon learning the cat was a female.
On August 23, 1968, Chimega was declawed and defanged at the Hawthorne Animal Hospital in order to protect those persons handling her and to make it possible for the new mascot to attend public events.
In January 1969 a volunteer organization named the Cougar Guard was formed to assume the responsibility of caring for the cougar. Originally, only male students who could handle the cougar while she was on a leash were allowed in the organization. Later, female students known as "Cougarettes" were added to assist with crowd control and to function as walking information centers regarding the cougar, in order that the handlers might devote their total attention to Chimega. Eventually, membership in the Cougar Guard was extended to any SIUE student interested in working with the campus mascot who could complete the preliminary training program successfully.
In June of 1970, Chimega moved into her permanent on-campus home located behind the University Center. Her cage was thirty feet in diameter and was topped with a white geodesic dome designed by the internationally known architect/designer R. Buckminster Fuller, who had come to SIUE as a visiting professor.
Chimega was a campus favorite and received visitors at all hours of the day. She was considered to have a gentle disposition and was comfortable in crowded areas. She was even docile enough to allow children to pet her. She was walked twice daily around campus by Cougar Guard members. Chimega made many public appearances as the official SIUE mascot. She was a regular at university sporting events and student activities. She appeared in the University Theatre production, "Carnival," in 1971 and also in a television commercial for a local Lincoln-Mercury dealer. She participated in several area parades, including the Illinois State Fair, and was featured in numerous publications.
In February 1974, Chimega was mated with a male cougar, "Mai Tai," owned by Jack and Pat Kibler of Florissant, Missouri. On May 3, 1974, two cubs were born to Chimega at the Kibler's. Sadly, one was stillborn and the other, a male named "Michega," died fourteen hours later from aspiration of food.
In the summer of 1982, Chimega was retired from service as the SIUE mascot after showing signs of surliness during a trip to the Illinois State Fair. She was replaced by a three-month-old cougar cub named "Kyna," which is Welsh for graceful or wise lady. Kyna was born on June 1, 1982 in Florissant, Missouri, at the home of Ron and Peggy Stocksick. She was the eighth generation of her family in captivity.
Kyna was purchased by SIUE at the age of seven weeks for $500. She weighed six pounds and was twenty-five inches long from head to tail. Kyna was cared for by the Cougar Guard and resided at private homes until she was old enough to live on campus. She was declawed on August 30, 1982, at the Cross Keys Animal Clinic in Florissant, Missouri, by Dr. Gorden Gilliatt.
On January 22, 1983, Kyna moved to her permanent home behind the University Center. The cougar cage was divided in half to house both Chimega and Kyna. In August, a seventy-five foot by twenty-five foot run was added, to give Kyna more space to roam. On March 7, 1983, the fence on Kyna's side of the cage was cut by four East Alton youths as a prank. The hole was large enough for her to escape. She was found later near the cage playing with an opossum.
On March 12, 1985, Chimega, the beloved original SIUE mascot, died at the age of seventeen years, six months. She had been in poor health for several months. The normal life span for a cougar in captivity is twelve to fifteen years. Chimega was buried beside a small lake near Founders Hall (then Classroom Building II).
Kyna underwent emergency surgery on October 7, 1985, to remove pieces of a soccer ball she had eaten. Six inches of her large intestine had to be removed due to punctures in the lining. Kyna underwent a second surgery on October 15 because she had developed an infection around her intestine.
Due to liability issues, Kyna was restricted from public appearances on December 1, 1986. She continued to serve as SIUE mascot until June 26, 1987, when she was donated to M/M Exotics of Metropolis, Illinois. The following day, the cage that had served as the home of the cougar mascots was demolished. The controversial decision to move Kyna off-campus was made due to potential liability issues, the lack of financial resources necessary to repair/rebuild the cougar's home, and the decreasing membership in the Cougar Guard. The administration's decision to transfer Kyna off-campus sparked a flurry of protest, both from SIUE staff, students and alumni, and from members of nearby communities including prominent individuals such as Congressman Melvin Price. However, the administration remained steadfast in its decision and Kyna would not return to SIUE, nor would another live mascot be sought.