Story of SpiRIT
With a rising interest in Tigers hockey mainly due to a really great, all-Canadian, hockey team in September of 1963, Denis Kitchen, Roger Kramer and Jim Black formed an ad hock Tiger committee and convinced Student Government to loan them $1000+ for the purchase of a baby Bengal tiger that would serve as RIT's live mascot. He would be kept at the Seneca Park Zoo and brought on campus by students who were trained handlers. The Zoo promised to purchase a mate so that there would always be a real mascot.
The plan was to repay the Council by selling one dollar shares of stock in the tiger, which were printed up by students and donated by the School of Printing. The response was overwhelming and over three hundred shares were sold the first week. The zoo personnel acquired the baby and made arrangements with the Dallas Zoo to fly him to Rochester. They acquired the second cat a couple of months later.
A caravan with more than 50 students, Dr. Campbell, vice president for student life and RIT’s director of student activities, and Steve Walls met at the airport after midnight, surprising the tired passengers on the plane. The pilots were presented “stock certificates” and joined the welcome as the cage was opened. All were awed by the 20-pound bundle of striped fur that was all head and feet, with big brown eyes.
With the tiger on campus, the loan was repaid quickly. Stock certificates in the tiger were the “IN” thing to give any important visitor to campus, whether it was a date from out of town or a visiting lecturer. A big “name the tiger contest” was held and SpiRIT was chosen as his name. Classmate and now distinguished photography professor Andy Davidhazy was credited with the name, which derived from “Student Pride In RIT.”
A group of students, many from A-Phi-O, took lessons at the Zoo and became SpiRIT’s “handlers.” They were taught how to read his motions and predict his movements. they had to protect him from the public as much as protect the public from him.
SpiRIT appeared on a local children’s TV program where, with all the excitement, he relieved himself as he sat on a table. The host deftly covered his indiscretion with the comment, “He sure sweats a lot under these hot TV lights.”
He went to RIT picnics held on the land in Henrietta purchased for the “new” campus. He was brought out before and between periods of basketball and hockey games, and walked around our concrete campus downtown.
As winter quarter 1963 ended and he got big enough to require two handlers at a time, we noticed that he had soft bone problems, which was diagnosed as a calcium deficiency. As much as the zoo personnel tried to hide calcium pills in his food he would dig them out and push them away. SpiRIT knew more than we did about his health. When all his food was soaked in calcium and he had to eat it, his calcium deficiency was mitigated and the larger problem – a pelvic constriction – was revealed. Sadly, on Sept. 28, 1964, it became necessary to have him put down.
$1,000 was procured and given to Seneca Park Zoo where more money was added and plans were put in motion to purchase another cat. SPIRIT II was acquired but was too old to safely be brought on campus.
Today the spirit of the RIT tiger resides on campus in the form of a student-commissioned, life-size, bronze sculpture. Students visit him every day where he sits on a pedestal at his newly acquired conversion den and sitting wall. Student Pride In RIT remains alive and well at RIT.