Just as there are differing accounts of the origin of the nickname “Oscar” for the golden statuette clutched by Academy Award winners, so are there various versions of how Oswald the Blue Penguin came to be the Clark College mascot.
Nevertheless, one claim appears to be the best substantiated.
In a letter dated May 2, 1983, Larry Rakestraw, the only student to enroll the college on its first day of registration (September 28, 1933), described the mascot's history.
I received on Christmas, 1932, a wooden penguin, about four inches high, blue coat, with articulated legs. If placed on an incline, it would walk down the slope with the determined but uncertain gait of a sailor on shore leave. I took it along when I went to Clark.
One evening in the fall of 1933, I removed a leaf from the study table in the Hidden House library, placed the leaf on a pile of books, and was walking the penguin when the Dean, Robert T. Oliver, walked in. "Aha, Oswald, the Blue Penguin!", he exclaimed; and I realized at once that Oswald was the proper name for the bird. "The college needs a mascot," Oliver went on, "Would you be willing to donate Oswald?" and I agreed.
Oswald the Blue Penguin occupied a place of honor on the mantlepiece of the fireplace at Hidden House while I was there, 1933-35, and while my wife was there, 1935-37.
Earliest sketch of Oswald (from the 1936 Galapagon yearbook). According to Oswald's original owner Larry Rakestraw, this is an accurate sketch. This replica of the original 4" version of Oswald was one of several available to Clark students in 1939 and 1940.
The original Oswald spent the next several years gracing the mantelpiece of the Hidden House fireplace. Sketches of Oswald appeared in the 1936 Galapagon, the school yearbook named for the Galapagos Islands, home of the penguin. He also appeared in early editions of the school newspaper, the Squawk of the Blue Penguin. A student in 1936 or ’37 made a model of Oswald to whip up spirit at college basketball games.
There are no records to indicate what happened to the original Oswald. But, in a letter dated May 2, 1983, Larry Rakestraw wrote: "I imagine that original Oswald was a casualty of the numerous moves made by Clark after 1937."
Student devotion to Oswald grew as decades passed. In January 1988, about a dozen students gathered in front of the Baird Administration Center, hoisting placards protesting the proposed removal of the penguin design from the gymnasium floor. They even burned a small evergreen tree -- evidently a snub to the evergreen pictured in the school’s logo. Following the demonstration, a compromise was reached to allow a student-designed image of Oswald on the remodeled gym floor.
Today, Oswald flourishes in campus topiary, its literature and on the college Web site. He’s visible in initiatives such as the Green/Sustainable Penguin Nation and the Healthy Penguin Nation, aimed at boosting the well-being of the planet and college staff and students, respectively.
Oswald also makes appearances on special occasions, sporting a blue necktie and yellow sneakers to greet visitors and college regulars alike.