Special to the Journal
GAINESVILLE, Ga., Oct. 4, 2013 – Brenau University officially celebrated the beginning of its 135th anniversary on Friday with the dedication of what it believes to be the world’s largest golden tiger sculpture as the perfect symbol of the institution’s spirit, academic prowess and nationally ranked intercollegiate sports teams.
And, the statute now has a name: Lucile, in honor of Lucile Townsend Pearce, who came to the college as a student in 1897 and remained as a guiding influence for the next half century.
The “birthday party,” complete with punch and birthday cake for the students, faculty, dignitaries and other guests who gathered in the plaza that is now home for the golden tiger sculpture along one of Gainesville’s busiest thoroughfares. The celebration featured performances by the Brenau drum line, the Golden Tigers nationally ranked competitive cheerleading squad and the Vocal Chamber Ensemble.
“This is a great event for the university as a whole but especially for the Women’s College,” said Brenau President Ed Schrader. “During the past 40 years we have seen the number of women’s colleges in the United states drop from close to 400 to 47, so it is a remarkable achievement for Brenau to be growing still.”
Founded in 1878 as Georgia Baptist Female Seminary in a quiet residential section of the small northeast Georgia city, the not-for-profit, nonsectarian Brenau has evolved in 135 years to full doctoral degree-granting university status. With the undergraduate Women’s College still at its core, Brenau also operates coeducational undergraduate and graduate higher education programs on five Georgia campuses and online.
A highlight for the kick-off celebration was the ceremony dedicating the golden tiger sculpture. The 2,200-pound tiger is 7 feet 6 inches tall and 14 feet long. It was cast by Eagle Bronze, Inc., of Lander, Wyo. It was a gift to the university by Charlotte, N.C., philanthropist Irwin “Ike” Belk who has donated similar “mascot” sculptures to more than 40 colleges and universities in the United States, including the giant camel at Campbell University in North Carolina and the U.S. Air Force Academy falcon in Colorado.
Cumming, Ga., sculptor Greg Johnson, who cast Brenau’s Lucile, has done more than 20 such Belk-commissioned works. Belk has only one major stipulation: that the sculpture be the largest of its kind in the world.
“I haven’t been able to find one any bigger,” said Johnson. The sculptor said when planning the piece he “saw a lot of snarling, growling, biting tigers,” but decided to create a somewhat benign visage.
“Whatever you see in this tiger’s smile,” he told the crowd at the ceremony, “is what I want you to take home with you.”
The bronze piece arrived in Georgia in March and has remained nameless in its new home since. The university conducted an extensive naming contest among students, alumni, faculty and others and winnowed the final name from more than 400 submissions. Suggestions for the name had to include a good reason for choosing the name.
Brenau President Schrader said naming the statue in honor of Lucile Pearce was totally appropriate.
After Lucile graduated from Brenau in 1900, she married the institution’s youthful president, Haywood Jefferson Pearce, whose first wife had died some years earlier. H. J. Pearce in 1900 had renamed the school with its current name – a unique word coined from the first syllable of a German world related to refinement of precious metals, BREN, and the first two letters in the Latin word for gold, AU.
When Brenau selected the Golden Tiger as the mascot for its intercollegiate athletic teams, a committee of faculty, students and alumni picked as a nickname for the plush costumed mascot that appears at athletic and other events the name “H.J.” in honor of Lucile Pearce’s husband.
Lucile was intimately involved with the development of what essentially was a family business until it was turned over to the independent board of trustees that still runs what evolved into a non-profit, private university. And, when H.J. Pearce died in 1943, she assumed control of an executive committee that ran Brenau for the next two years, making her by many account “the first woman president of Brenau.”
“As a student and in life she was exactly the kind of well-rounded, individualistic, critical-thinking person that we believe all Brenau students should aspire to be,” said Schrader. “She was artistic and athletic, disciplined yet iconoclastic, genteel when appropriate and hard-as-nails tough when necessary, a forward-thinking traditionalist who saw a woman’s place in the world – indeed, any person’s place in the world – as what that person chose it to be.”
The Pearces’ granddaughter, Brenau Trustee Eleanor Dunlap (Sissy) Lawson, and grandson, Gayle P. Dunlap, both Gainesville residents, were present at the Friday ceremony.
Ironically, Lucile Pearce died in an automobile crash in 1946 close to the intersection of Green and Academy streets in Gainesville, very near the spot where the sculpture that bears her name now resides.
Another coincidence: the ceremony occurred on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of all animals, and it is customary for Catholic and Anglican churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on Oct. 4. As a result, the Brenau ceremony included a “blessing” by the university chaplain, Rev. Don Harrison, an Episcopalian.
The university also used the ceremony to announce its affiliation with the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition, a student-led collaborations of colleges and universities around the United States with tiger mascots. The organization aims to mobilize the public through education to improve or create global policies aimed at preserving the tiger species.
Brenau biology professor Jessi Shrout and biology student Esther Sindler said that in the past century the world has lost about 95 percent of its tiger population. Only about 3,200 tigers remain in the world.
There are 56 tiger mascot schools in the United States, including Auburn, Clemson, LSU, Missouri and Tuskegee Institute – the only other university that claims the Golden Tiger.