Home arrow News arrow LOST AND FOUND: University of Idaho's traditions have come and gone since its opening
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
LOST AND FOUND: University of Idaho's traditions have come and gone since its opening Print E-mail
Written by Alexis Roizen - Argonaut   
Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The University of Idaho was founded before the state of Idaho was. Joe Vandal used to have a lady friend named Josie. Men used to not be able to bring dates to athletic events. Freshmen and sophomores used to hate each other. There used to be a dress code for all of campus.

Times have changed and so have the traditions.

The evolution of the UI campus and its students has somehow left behind the importance of participating in traditions, those that were once so important to the student bodies of the past.

“My guess is that things are just not as traditional as they used to be, in anything,” said Lloyd Scott, director of New Student Services. “Some traditions needed to go away. But students are about the here and now and the ‘what comes next for me.’”

Going strong

One of the oldest traditions observed today on campus is Homecoming, formally starting in 1909 with the encouragement of alumni to return to campus. It is made up of events that last throughout the week and include the serpentine parade, the downtown Homecoming parade and competitions between living groups.

“I know that one event that alumni come back for is the Homecoming parade,” said Katie Dahlinger, student and young alumni program coordinator.

“(Students today) don’t value things like Homecoming,” Scott said.

Nancy Lyle graduated from the UI in the 1950s and works in the Alumni Office. She remembers Homecoming vividly.

“We did a huge bonfire before the WSU game,” she said. “We collected wood, trees and outhouses, anything we could burn. We still do have the bonfire, of course not as big.”

Traditionally the Homecoming game was played against Washington State University, then Washington State College. WSU students made it a mission to try and ignite the Idaho bonfire. Attempts included flaming arrows shot at the pile and phosphorus bombs dropped from airplanes. In all of the attempts over the years, WSU was never successful.

Rivalry with the neighboring school was a long-standing tradition particularly during Homecoming. It included simple pranks of “borrowing” Butch, the WSU mascot, taking the clapper off the WSU victory bell and WSU students painting crimson W’s on the Idaho tower. It went as far as fights after the game and the other school’s letters carved or burned into the football turf.

Rivalry fights were getting out of hand and costing the schools money.

A wager made in 1939 between the sports writers of the Idaho paper, “The Argonaut,” and WSU’s paper, “The Evergreen,” turned into a tradition the campus still observes and served as a replacement of the traditional pranks surrounding Homecoming.

The event is called The Loser’s Walk, where the losing football team’s student body walks the eight miles to the winning school’s campus.  There, the visiting students would wash the feet of the winners and walk home.

The most memorable walk occurred in 1954. Idaho had not beaten WSU in the annual game since 1925, and after losing many games during their ’54 season, UI turned around to beat WSU 10-0.

The president of the university cancelled classes that Monday, and more than 1,000 people walked from WSU to UI.

Today the Loser’s Walk is almost nonexistent. The ASUI presidents and other cabinet members used to participate at the walk’s height. The student body made up a majority of the participants, but now it is kept alive by the newspaper staff that started it.

“Last year, only a few Argonaut staffers even made the walk,” said one 2007 Argonaut editorial. “If not to come together as a campus, let’s just come together for the sake of keeping a long-standing tradition alive. There is so much history in the Loser’s Walk and it’s on the verge of being lost, doomed to live as only a memory.”

“I would love to see WSU doing the Loser’s Walk more,” said Jon Gaffney, last year’s ASUI president. “(But) the one thing I think we’re really missing right now is an evenly matched rival. Geography is one thing, but it’s hard to compete.”

“The Argonaut” is responsible for more than just the Loser’s Walk — it also takes credit in creating the Vandal mascot. 

In 1920, UI was still without a mascot, despite more than 20 years of being open. Athletics were hugely successful, and one sports reporter struggled on how to address the teams.

“They called them the Vandals because they had beaten everybody,” Lyle said.

The reporter wrote that the basketball team was vandalizing its opponents, and by 1921 the Vandal name stuck.

Another walk

More than just the names and the events, there are traditions built into the campus grounds.

Hello Walk is one of the best-known and traveled pathways on the Idaho campus. But more than being surrounded by trees and grass, it navigates through a rich history of statues, landmarks and traditions. It includes Presidential Grove, where historical figures, such as Teddy Roosevelt and his wife, planted trees; the Spanish War memorial statute who had his hands cut off but reconstructed by a handless sculptor and Administration Lawn that was designed by the same brothers who designed Central Park in New York City.

The walk was named after Alfred Upham, the president of the university in the 1920s. Upham insisted on saying “hello” to all those he passed on his walk from his house — now where the Campus Christian Center is — to the Administration Building where his office was. He then insisted that this act of kindness be required of all students and faculty on campus, which is how the walk acquired its name.  

Hello Walk is still used, but the hellos that used to be mandatory are no longer vocalized to strangers.

“I blame the deterioration of the Hello Walk tradition on the iPod,” Gaffney said. “The portable technology doesn’t allow people to be as friendly with each other as they once were.”

Freshmen traditions

At the top of Hello Walk is the I Bench, once reserved only for seniors.

“If anyone but a senior sat on (the I Bench) they would be in great trouble,” Lyle said.

In 1911, all men of the freshmen class were required to wear green beanies at all times, except when sleeping. Freshmen trespassers on the bench and those not wearing the beanie at all were treated to a paddling, and if persistent in defiance, a dunk in the fountain.

In 1933, the green beanie tradition was abandoned, and the flagpole replaced the fountain in front of the Administration Building.

“In the old days there were a lot more goofy kinds of pranks,” Lyle said. “Things we would roll our eyes at today … but would be considered hazing (now).”

“A past tradition was the freshmen-sophomore tug-of-war,” said Dahlinger. “And we no longer do that because it segregates classes. We’re no longer in high school. We’ve moved on a step.”

Now class rivalry is non-existent.

“We have a unified student body rather than unified class years,” Gaffney said.

“A lot of the traditions when I was here in the ‘50s and ‘60s have faded away,” Lyle said.

She thinks the traditions have dropped off because “we have a more modern view of equal rights — and probably hazing would be one word for it.”

Lyle thinks a lot of traditions have come back and in different forms than the original.

“It is a school that really values the traditions,” Lyle said. “It’s such a connection to be from here.”

Those unified classes start to come together at the first tradition freshmen can participate in.

Every year on the night before the first day of class, freshmen join in on the Vandal Walk. It starts in the Kibbie Dome with a pep rally, and then all attendants walk to the Administration Lawn for dinner. The walk incoming freshmen take is the exact reverse of the walk they will take at Commencement.

“The walk is wonderfully decorated,” said Bruce Pitman, vice provost of student affairs. His office had a hand in creating the event that we have today.

When the students reach the Kibbie Dome for their dinner, “all the serving is done by old farts like me,” said Lloyd Scott, director of New Student Services.

“We feed about 1,000 people at the event,” Pitman said. “Every four or five years we get rained out and run to the Kibbie Dome and serve hotdogs on the 50 yard line.”

This event was inspired by a barbeque the president of the university would have at his house every year with all the incoming freshmen in the 1960s. When the class sizes started to grow the tradition had to grow, too.

A Vandal Traditions poster that hangs in the Alumni office says: “A person without history is like a tree without roots. Hence, the importance of these Vandal traditions. Take pride in your alma mater. Be sure to make your own traditions while on campus, for these are the days to remember.”

Much of the history for this story came from “This Crested Hill” by Keith Petersen. The book is considered the primary source of the history of the university. It can be found in the UI library.


Add as favorites (70) | Views: 2846

Comments (1)
1. 14-08-2008 23:45
I remember when my dad talked about the different "pranks" he & others did when he attended the UofI in the 70's.  
I love the idea of traditions, I believe it is an important part of any experience. You need tradition to appreciate the whole aspect of your experience. It gives a person character as well as the University. Unfortunately, times have changed. I think the reason traditions have changed or are non-existent is do to legality issues of today's society. People are afraid of participating because rules have become stricter, not that is necessarily a bad thing, but it makes a person think twice before they do a prank. If you where caught altering another college, you may get suspended or arrested for trespassing or vandalizing. Another reason is college is becoming a job for most; we are forgetting how to enjoy learning and the benefits of doing it together. We have our "clicks of friends" that we drink and party with, but we don't adventure out to others in our class to share traditions outside our comfort zone. Plus, we are a closed-minded society and some people don't understand the meaning of traditions and don't care to either. Unless we get a pep rally going to cheer on our classes, traditions might not exist when my children attend the UofI. That would be ashame. I would love to see traditions live on. !!!GO VANDALS!!!

Only registered users can write comments.
Please login or register.


Moscow, ID
Mostly CloudyTomorrow: Mostly Cloudy
Lo 42°F

Lost Password?
No account yet? Register
Web Argonaut
Top!   Top!