UI archivist details recent acquisitions that celebrate 68-year-old mascot

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Herky the Hawk turns 68 this fall. Old Gold supposes we could wait two more years and celebrate our favorite mascot’s 70th birthday in 2018. Old Gold, however, loves a party and isn’t willing or prepared to wait that long. No, there is good reason to make merry this season. Two, in fact. Old Gold will explain after he serves up his customary history lesson. And don’t worry. The lesson won’t take long, and Old Gold promises it will be worth the wait. Also, it’s something every loyal Hawkeye should know. So pay attention, please. There may be a quiz. 

The year was 1948. Frank Havlicek (BSPE ’48), the UI athletics business manager at the time, believed that the Hawkeyes needed a mascot. As longtime Iowa City historian Irving Weber recounted in his column in the Iowa City Press-Citizen’s Sept. 20, 1978, issue, “(Havlicek) felt that we needed an animated mascot like Michigan’s Wolverine, Wisconsin’s Bucky Badger, Northwestern’s Wildcat, and so on.” Havlicek held a contest, inviting one and all to submit their drawings.

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The winner, as it turned out, was close to home: Dick Spencer III (BA ’43), an instructor in journalism at the UI whose artistic flair depicted a lovable yet not-to-be-messed-with bird. Spencer, incidentally, was teaching the nation’s first course in editorial cartooning at the time, so his qualifications were particularly well-suited for the competition. Soon after, a second contest was arranged to find a name for the new creature. Submitted by John Franklin of Belle Plaine, Iowa, “Herky the Hawk,” short for “Hercules” and perfectly alliterative, was the winner. By the 1949 football season, Herky was in full gear as the Hawkeyes’ mascot.

Spencer created an array of Herky drawings during his time in Iowa City, outfitting his newly beloved character for several sports, including football, baseball, and basketball. Though he moved to Colorado in 1950 to become editor, and later publisher, of Western Horseman magazine, his ties to Iowa remained strong, and his artistry remained popular, appearing in game programs, promotional brochures, the alumni magazine, and even commemorative buttons at Homecoming.

At some point after his move west, Spencer gave Havlicek many of his original drawings, sketches, and completed drafts dating from as early as 1949. Havlicek held them in safekeeping until his death in 2003 at the age of 85. His widow, Bernice “Bunny” Havlicek (GN ’40), then cared for them for the next 13 years. Which leads us to our first reason to celebrate Herky’s 68th.

In August 2016, Mrs. Havlicek and their daughter, Jane Roth, donated Dick Spencer’s Herky drawings—48 in all—to the University Archives. UI Libraries, home of the archives, is thrilled to serve as the new host for these unique treasures, and Old Gold is grateful to both Bunny and Jane for making this gift possible. 

But wait, there’s more! There is a second reason to celebrate Herky’s 68th.

In June 2016, the University Archives received a splendid set of eight original drawings of Herky as he appeared in 1973 from the artist Merrill James “Jim” Hutchinson Jr. (BA ’73) of San Rafael, California. Hutchinson, a senior from Cedar Rapids majoring in broadcasting and film at the time, believed that Herky needed some “sprucing up,” according to an April 17, 1973, profile of Hutchinson by Daily Iowan reporter Townsend Hoopes III.

“I wanted Herky to be physically strong because that’s the sign of a good athlete. ...to be strong, aggressive, and determined,” Hutchinson said at the time. As with the Spencer drawings, plans are underway to digitally scan the collection.

Old Gold’s readers may enjoy a sampling of these unique collections in the gallery of images accompanying this column, not to mention newly acquired bragging rights as Herky history experts. Congratulations, and Herky birthday!