Flashback: Before the Golden Grizzlies


Oakland University has a rich history, though being a younger university in comparison to many others in the state.

One of the first things to come with the university’s dedication was the motto and seal. The motto comes from Dante’s Inferno and it translates to “Consider your birth. You were not made to live like brutes, but to follow courage and knowledge.”

The seal, featuring the iconic “sail” design, was chosen after a failed attempt at a student-run contest. Both the deal and the motto were officially adopted on Jan. 7, 1963, just a few months before the first graduating class of Oakland.

The Grizz may be synonymous with Oakland Athletics today, but the bear hasn’t always been the university’s mascot.

Officially, The Grizz was the first mascot Oakland University had. However, from as early as the 1950s until he retired in 1999, Pioneer Pete was the one cheering on student athletes.

Pioneer Pete began as an aerospace pioneer, echoing to the eras desire for space travel and Oakland’s focus on engineering programs according to OU’s website. However, at some point before the 1970s, students began drawing Pioneer Pete as a man in a buckskin hat.

There are conflicting reports of whether the original Pioneer Pete was an “aerospace” pioneer or not. The Oakland University Magazine Fall 2007 issue featured a caption that read “in 1964, a small group of swimmers and cross country runners got together with then Athletics Director Hollie Lepley and came up with the name ‘Pioneers.’”

The Oakland Post reasoned this may have been because OU was considered to be a pioneering school of sorts. It was newer than many others.

This rumor may in fact be true, as OU only existed one year in the 1950s, so it seems unlikely Pioneer Pete was designed well before the seal and motto.

The buckskin image is what ultimately influenced then-OU student Charles “Chuck” Conklin to don a leather jacket, moccasins and a fur hat, becoming OU’s first costumed mascot.

In a March 1996 issue of The Oakland Post, student reporters noted that Greg Kampe had the first thought to change the mascot.

Part of the reason was that Oakland University began to make the switch to NCAA Division 1. The mascot would inadvertently be linked to the team, and the new mascot had to be able to be used for marketing purposes.

A committee was formed, and they decided the new mascot had to follow a set of rules. It had to be animal based, unique, have some regional tie, be “collegiate” and have potential to be used as a graphic.

Focus groups held across campus reinforced some of the board’s ideas to have a race and gender-neutral mascot.

Unfortunately, Pioneer Pete didn’t fall in line with many of these rules. That didn’t stop the “Pioneers” making it to the final consideration of the school’s mascot.

The three finalists were the Saber Cats, the Pioneers and the Golden Grizzlies. The test groups who looked at these mascots decided that the Golden Grizzlies was a fan favorite.

The Pioneer name didn’t die with the switch to the Golden Grizzlies. In 2014, a group of alumni formed The Pioneer Club. This organization is formed of retired OU alumni, helping alumni reconnect with one another, carrying on the Pioneer tradition.