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Campus mourns loss of beloved mascot

In the days following Griff I’s death, students and community members laid flowers in his memory at his statue in front of Old Main. Photo courtesy of Parker Wright | News editor

On the evening of March 4, Griff I passed away at the age of 11. Griff I was the first official live mascot representing Drake University, pioneering the live mascot program. His infectious spirit united and inspired the Bulldog community, according to Griff I’s owner Erin Bell, associate director of marketing and manager of the live mascot program at Drake.

Griff I became the first official live mascot back in 2015, a role that filled the bulldog with a lot of pride, according to Bell. 

Bell said she and her family are grieving. Griff I was a steady presence in their house and around campus. She said he was there for her kids growing up and they are not used to him being gone. 

“We’ve got a lot of good memories to cling on to,” Bell said. “We’re lucky to have Griff II here to absorb the extra love that we’ve got,” Bell said 

Along with her children, Bell said Griff II is also missing having “his brother” around, even looking for Griff I in the mornings. According to Bell, cheering on the boys’ basketball team at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament has gotten him a little bit out of his slump. 

“Getting him out of the house and around a lot of different stimuli to distract him, I think was a good thing,” Bell said. 

Both Griffs loved to be out in the Drake community, Bell said. As part of the live mascot program, Bell and both Griffs would try to attend whatever event they are asked to, “whether it’s a group of five people having a meeting or one person having a birthday.” This is so that, as the live mascot, Griff can be present for everybody and representative of all at Drake, according to Bell.  

“He was an amazing dog, an amazing soul. He was very stoic. He was very stubborn. He was a proud dog,” Bell said.  “He knew he was a big deal and walked around like he knew he was a big deal.” 

Kyle Tekautz, a 2022 graduate of Drake’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, was the marketing intern who helped start the live mascot program with Griff I. He said Griff I’s legacy is the energy he brought to campus, sporting events and everywhere else that he would show up. Along with his stoic personality, Griff I was a gentle, easily approachable and well-mannered dog that students would get excited to see, according to Tekautz. 

“He never showed too much excitement unless it was around food, but whenever there were people around, he’d pop a smile,” Tekautz said. 

Tekautz said that Griff I and Griff II’s status as a therapy dog is such a great attribute for a live mascot. He added that college is a tough transition, but Griff I was able to provide emotional support and guide students emotionally throughout that transition. 

“He was always just there. [He was] a shoulder to lean on, a dog to take a picture with. Whenever you [needed] him there, he [was] there,” Tekautz said. 

The live mascot program helps encourage students to come to Drake, according to Tekautz. He noted how excited he was to get his first picture with Griff I back in 2017.

Tekautz said he has a lot of fun memories with Griff I, such as spending a day at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, being the Griff handler at the annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest and going to elementary schools to present about the live mascot program. Additionally, Tekautz said one of his favorite memories was when he went to an animal shelter in West Des Moines and promoted both Griff I and the various adoptable dogs at the shelter. 

“I’m not really a crier, but when I was texting Erin, I did shed some tears just saying how much I’m going to miss that dog and how much he was not just a dog,” Tekautz said. “He was so much more to the Drake experience, and I’m just so grateful to share those memories and have reflected fondly upon my college experience.” 

After participating in these exciting events for five years, Tekautz and Bell said that Griff I had a hard time adjusting to retirement and not “being the big dog on campus” anymore. Bell said he missed going out all the time, but quickly adjusted and began to love retirement. 

“He slept all day, laid in the sun and did whatever he wanted,” Bell said. “He was very happy for the last three and a half years.” 

As the foundation for the live mascot program, Bell said she attributes the success of the program to Griff I. Through Griff I, Bell met Bucksbaum lecturers, presidential candidates and more — she even met President Joe Biden. Bell said she looks back at all these memories fondly. 

Bell said one of her favorite memories is introducing Griff I to Drake. She said that the day that Drake had the press conference in the middle of Helmick Commons and introduced him to the world was very exciting because Griff I had been “hiding” in her house for about six months before the big reveal. 

“My dogs are like my children, they are every bit a part of our family, so it was hard not to talk about him and share him,” Bell said. 

Bell said her family is reflecting on their memories with Griff I and giving extra love to Griff II to get through this tough time. She wishes for Griff I to be remembered for the love that he spread and the difference he made on campus and in the Des Moines community. “He exceeded all expectations and made a lot of difference in his short life,” Bell said. 

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