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Beanies, beards and biceps: The history and impact of Louie

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NAU students see Louie the Lumberjack everywhere. In the bookstore, his face is plastered all over merchandise: coffee mugs, hats, shirts and flags. When students wait for the bus, they see his bobblehead plastered on the side of the Jacks Line and Louie Line. More importantly, they see him pumping up the crowd at any sporting events with a foam ax in hand ­­­­­— due to safety reasons of course — to help lead the blue and gold to fame. Sporting his traditional and iconic yellow flannel, he is a hard-to-miss feature that is unique for the mountain town.

However, he is more than just a happy Jack in the crowd. The history of the lovable tree-chopper runs deep just like the university he represents.

To find out who Louie really is, one must take a step into the past.

According to records from the Cline Library Archives, in the fall of 1915, NAU, or at that time the Northern Arizona Normal School, officially adopted the title of Lumberjacks during a game against Winslow High school. The main reason behind the birth of a labeled name was because of the popularity of the lumber industry that was taking over Flagstaff at the time.

Fast forward to 1947. Now named the Arizona State College, the school finally had a chance to debut the first physical symbol of northern Arizona pride. The twist is that it has nothing to do with the name of the university.

Mike, a Saint Bernard dog, was the first physical mascot that the school had to offer. On a loan from a man named Bob Witty, Mike would make appearances at sporting events wearing a wine keg from his neck while wearing a felt Lumberjack mascot blanket.

After the short-lived representation of our “lumberdog,” the school had adopted an object to take the place of a physical representation, which in 1932 was a center of drama.

According to school archives, the student body and university adopted a copper ax which was manufactured in Douglas, Arizona and donated by English department head Mary Hill. As a symbol for Lumberjack sports, the ax was taken from its safe in the business building by two rival school students from The Normal School in Tempe, now called Arizona State University. With road blocks made by Flagstaff Police Department, the thieves were caught and punished for their crimes.

Adam Ojeda, trademark and licensing manager for NAU, looked through his records, and it appeared he uncovered what changed the course of the NAU history.

In his archive, he found a letter that was submitted by past NAU Dean Joseph Rolle for a nomination of Robert P. Nokes for the Alumni Achievement and/or Distinguished Citizen Award for the help of creating the first logo of Arizona State College.

“We didn’t have a mascot at the time, so Dean Rolle sponsored a contest that he offered $25 of his own money for the winner,” said Ojeda. “In 1949, Robert Nokes submitted what is believed to be the first makings of a Lumberjack mascot that the university adopted.”

Nokes logo would be used from 1949 until 1966 when Arizona State College became what is known today as NAU.

What was a $25 wager for a logo contest turned out to be what has become an iconic feature that is seen by anyone who steps foot onto campus. Students could see Louie in various places on campus such as graduation programs, football programs and homecoming flyers to set the tone of what the university was all about.

From there, the symbol of northern Arizona pride was taking shape. As time went on for the university, so did the look of Louie. It wasn’t until September 1985 that people get to see the beginnings of the bearded gentleman.

The first rendition of the Louie costume seemed to be a do-it-yourself project. The person who would be Louie would sport a large beanie and wear a fake, gigantic beard while balancing on 3-foot 6-inches stilts to have the image of being larger than life. With the person wearing a long sleeve under a flannel, the mascot looked more human than a muscular lumberjack. NAU held a contest afterwards to name the new lumberjack and the name “Bad Axe” won.

Then, in 1988, the introduction of Louie was introduced to the people of NAU. Being named from the ageless 1963 hit “Louie, Louie” by The Kingmen, the first real mascot formation on Louie was official. With a costume price tag of around $1,800, Louie was an instant hit among NAU fans.

With Homecoming Week about to engulf the university with games, activities and spirit rallies along with alumni, there is a sure bet that the lovable, scruffy ax wielding lumberjack would be there mingling with the people having a good time.

Emma Wolff, sophomore strategic communication major and True Blue ambassador, is a handler for Louie at events. She has seen firsthand the positive impact that Louie has had for the community.

“I think Louie has a very special job, he is the face of NAU,” said Wolff. “Especially with the younger kids or during our orientation, the people who want to see Louie want to go up to him a give him a high-five or take a picture with him. Families definitely love seeing him there.”

Besides having the typical mascot duties, Louie plays a role in recruitment for potential Lumberjacks to enter into the university.

“Being an undergrad at admissions, I think he plays a major part in recruitment process just because during discover NAU or other school functions, having him there is just like an idea of ‘This is what my college life is going to be’ sort of thing,” Wolff said.

Wolff said with Louie being a symbol for the university, it can help incoming students identify what they want to be. With Louie being gentle and calmer compared to most mascots at other institutions, he directly shows the laid-back vibe that NAU has to offer.

“When I am in the Louie costume, some of them might say ‘Oh that’s just some college person having fun’ but a lot of people see Louie as a source of energy and excitement,” said an anonymous source. Due to the rules of being the mascot, the source cannot be mentioned.

“I would wave at people, I would high-five the [kids] that come by and I just really like it because I get people excited,” said the anonymous source. “It makes me feel like a celebrity even though it really isn’t me.”

From being an idea that won a cartoonist student $25 to being named after a popular pop song, Louie has had a rich journey at NAU.