Sam and Jerry

September 1, 2015 | By More

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Bond between man and pet (animal companion, if you like) grows out of mutual observation, getting a feel for the other’s fluctuating yet distinct personality and trying to deduce from an unintelligible language what on earth it is the companion wants.

What makes this bond special is that it’s a two way street. Both man and pet are lifelong observers and creators of this joyful dynamic called friendship. Although one may fade
into the other’s shadow the relationship persists.

Sam Strasner, Arkansas Tech University’s director of university relations, created the idea of a modern Jerry the Bulldog and is now roommate/keeper of the actual white and-brown-splotched hunk-of-a dog. He doesn’t mind being eclipsed by Arkansas Tech University’s (almost) fearless ambassador—plastic trash bags will send Jerry running.

The story of Jerry Charles Young I began with an idea of resurgence, and, like all effective symbols, became actualized in the form of a living, often snorting, being to which the idea was applied. This application of abstract to animate has been a success at both levels. The college took to the idea and ran with it, and Jerry certainly doesn’t mind three square meals a day and endless laud.

“There’d been talk for several decades about trying to have something in addition to Wonder Boys and Golden Suns, something that would lend itself to visual representation,” said Strasner. “But I always thought if we were going to do something like that, it was important for it to have a historical importance to Tech. Any time you’re telling a story, unless you can tell it in a context, it doesn’t really have any meaning.”

Strasner found this context in the form of a short and quizzically violent paragraph on page 349 of Dr. Kenneth Walker’s “History of Arkansas Tech University,” which concerned the death of the original Jerry:

“In November 1937, he [Jerry] disappeared and soon after was found dead in the hills behind the airport,” Walker writes. “His body was torn almost beyond recognition. He was surmised to have been killed by dogs or possibly by wild cats.”

Despite the incident’s disturbing account, Strasner was nonetheless intrigued this spectral animal had woven his way into the annals of Tech history. Further research uncovered, on a far less dour note, the celebrated life of the Jerry the Bulldog of the 1930s. The college and its students’ affinity for the animal was apparent.

Through student newspaper articles from the Arka Tech, Strasner discovered the first Jerry belonged to W.O. Young, Tech’s business manager from 1917-1942. According to the articles, Jerry hung around important events and was adored by the students and faculty. When Young’s Jerry died, the Arka Tech headline read: “Campus loses mascot in passing of Jerry.”

Young’s son, Robert A. Young Sr., served in the same capacity as his father at Tech from 1941-1984, and his son, Robert A. Young Jr., was the president of the Arkansas Tech Foundation and still keeps close ties to Tech. The Young family’s Tech connection, spanning almost 100 years, has thrived and remains historically relevant. But the tradition of Jerry the Bulldog petered out and was forgotten by time.

“When you put it in the context of history, the world got busy after Jerry died,” Strasner said. “The country was trying to get out of The Depression, and then it was heading into World War II. The story of Jerry, as many stories are, was lost to history.”

After Strasner regenerated the idea, Tech’s Student Government Association voted unanimously to bring back Jerry as the university’s campus ambassador. A September 2013 trip to Tulsa later and two-month-old Jerry was headed back to live with Strasner and his wife, Heather. Strasner said he and Jerry both depend heavily on Heather as she maintains Jerry’s social calendar and gets him to his appearances.

Strasner said Jerry quickly acclimated to his role as the sagging but always cheery face of Tech. As an employee of the university, Jerry works two or three half days a week leading tours and appears at the majority of campus events. He’s a keen salesman, and Strasner said his strut and demeanor are favorites with prospective students, helping to indoctrinate them into Tech’s newly rebirthed tradition.

His apt cuteness and affable personality befitting his job title are his calling cards, but Strasner said when students pet and love on Jerry, it’s more than affection for a dog. He said it’s a way for them to express how they feel about Tech. Jerry’s pay for such monumental and, at times exhausting, tasks is considerably meager—room, board and food—but what he lacks in monetary compensation is made up for with belly rubs and 12,000 students as his closest friends.

There’s no doubt, though, Jerry has a best friend.  For Strasner, the feeling is mutual. He said they immediately hit it off, and their mindsets jibe so well that he writes a letter from Jerry’s perspective in each alumni magazine.

“This particular Jerry has a very distinct personality,” Strasner said. “He is very well adjusted to his role because he started at such a young age, but he also has the appropriate amount of diva in him. He is not lacking in self-confidence. I watch the way he interacts with people and the way he carries himself, so when I write as Jerry I try to let his unique balance of character traits shine through in a way that, if he was capable, would be what he’d say.”

And what profound thoughts would Jerry the Bulldog articulate if given the chance to speak? Strasner said he seldom says much, calling him a man of few words. But he summed up his pal’s hypothetical words in the one-liner, “Really?” He said other things he’d say might not be fit for print, especially when Strasner tries to pull him away from events and endless photo shoots with students. Jerry’s content in the moment, and Sam doesn’t want Jerry’s contentment altered in the slightest.

Simply put, he’s a human without the stressful nonsense of future planning, balancing budgets and trips to the grocery store. Instead, Jerry focuses his efforts on life’s finer points, like afternoon fetch with his favorite slobber-logged tennis ball. Strasner said when he tries, futilely, to get the ball back and during tug of war, Jerry exemplifies Tech’s fighting spirit.

When it’s time to wind down, Strasner and Jerry usually sit in front of an Animal Planet program, the ebullient bulldog captivated by the barking of another dog. Then, once work and play are through, Strasner said naps top the list as Jerry’s favorite pastime. He’s good at it, too.

Although Strasner usually can’t fit naptime into his busy schedule, he said he and Jerry share a common stubborn streak that’s tacitly understood between the two. It’s easier to get Jerry and his keeper to do something if it was their idea. The commonalities extend into bodily characteristics as well.

“We both have fairly similar physical dimensions,” Strasner said. “We’re short and round, so we both understand the challenge that gravity poses. There’s not going to be any high jumpers at our house. Neither of us is going to set any world records in the vertical leap.”

They do have their differences, though. Jerry is jealous of Strasner’s opposable thumbs and ability to drive. With the windows down and the wind flapping the folds of his jowls, you’ve probably never seen a more ecstatic creature. Likewise, Strasner envies Jerry’s work schedule, one which he said we should all have.

Even though Jerry has certain obligations as Tech’s representative, Strasner said during the year of planning it took to bring the idea to fruition and what still today remains important to him is that Jerry can just be a dog for the vast majority of his life, and the life of each Jerry that will follow.

“Just like any employee of Tech and anywhere else, it’s important to have that balance between work and the rest of life,” Strasner said. “One way we accomplished this was the spikey collar that he’s known for. He only wears it when he’s on the job. When he’s home, he has what we call the ‘just-a-dog’ collar. That’s critical for his happiness, health and quality of life.”

No less than Reveille at Texas A&M and Smokey at Tennessee, Tech’s Jerry is carefully managed. Strasner said he’s constantly getting a gauge on how he feels, and it’s his hope for Jerry’s relevancy to equate that of Reveille’s to Texas A&M. With a continued pattern of increasing support, Strasner said he believes Jerry the Bulldog has the potential to bear an importance on par with larger university’s mascots.

The idea of Jerry was infinitely more accepted by administrators than Strasner expected, and he said the student body has adopted Jerry—the bulldog along with the symbolic, and physical, weight he carries—as a member of the Tech family.

A good deal of observation on Strasner’s side keeps Jerry content, and Jerry watches Strasner in an attempt to do the same. Both are characteristically fickle and willful, but the common goal to give Tech a living representation of the tenacity that epitomizes the university keep the two friends attuned to more than just their own happiness.

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