PHOTO | Tara Espinoza
Arkansas Tech campus ambassador Jerry the Bulldog has been winning hearts since he first stepped paw on campus in 2013. The ambassador, whose full name is Jerry Charles Young I, is the namesake of a bulldog kept by William O. Young in the mid-1930s. The first Jerry spent many days on campus at the armory, later known as the Stroupe Building, which was the site of home basketball games at the time. The bulldog also held a fondness for chewing on shoes. True to his legacy, our Jerry enjoys attending basketball games and has been known to chew the occasional shoe.
But who is this Jerry that the Tech community has come to know and love? And what does it take to be the campus ambassador? As Jerry’s schedule was booked by an afternoon nap and he was unable to appear for an interview, we’ve turned to the person who knows Jerry perhaps better than anyone else: Heather Strasner, spirit assistant at Tech and caretaker of the celebrity bulldog.
In 2012, Strasner worked as Visit Day coordinator in the admissions office where she was involved in the process of bringing Jerry on campus. And Jerry, Strasner revealed, is not a native Arkansan.
“He was actually born in Oklahoma. The conversation started growing about bringing this campus ambassador on, and what it was going to be and who it was going to be. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the original Jerry that anyone can find. We reached out to family and you know, in the 1930s, photos weren’t very common. So we didn’t know what the first Jerry looked like,” Strasner explained. “But we knew we needed an English bulldog.”
When a breeder was identified in Oklahoma, Strasner and others at Tech communicated the university’s needs. On July 17, 2013, Jerry was born.
“They sent pictures of this specific litter. And it was very obvious that Jerry was born for this role. They were just a couple weeks old, and Jerry was always the one that wanted to go to the camera and he was just the cutest little puppy that you’ve ever seen,” Strasner reminisced. “He just had this personality. And we knew, looking at the pictures, that this is what he was born for. He was born to be a star.”
News of Jerry’s adoption was kept limited to the Student Government Association executive council until Oct. 23 that year, when Jerry was introduced to the entire group, and it voted unanimously to bring him back as campus ambassador. A few days later, before a home football game, a ceremony in front of Williamson was held to officially introduce Jerry to the world as campus ambassador.
Jerry would train for two and a half years to become the best campus ambassador he could be.
“Our trainer told us that basically whatever bulldog you have at two and a half, that’s the bulldog you have. So we worked really hard to get him acclimated to the things that–I mean it’s hard to replicate a football game, for instance. We tried to make sure he was comfortable around loud noises,” Strasner said.
Typically, Jerry attends about a hundred events per semester. This includes football games, basketball games, and various residence life and community events. He has also been known to visit residence halls.
“The only thing that’s ever scared him is plastic bags. Like when you come home from Walmart, he would be horrified of these plastic bags,” Strasner laughed, “but they worked through that eventually. He’s been a champ the entire time.”
Unlike plastic bags, Jerry has never had a problem with the crowds that come with his celebrity status. In fact, Strasner said, he loves them.
“Really anything with students where he can get love and affection are his favorite events. You know, the events where he sees big crowds—where he gets that one-on-one attention—those are his favorites.”
At a young age, the bulldog adapted to and embraced a life of fame. But today, Jerry faces new and unique challenges. Due to COVID-19 and recent medical needs, the bulldog’s schedule has adopted some changes.
“He had two minor surgeries over Christmas, so he’s still in recovery and we’re not able to do, fully, as much as we would like. And then also with COVID, we do want to keep everyone safe, and he tends to draw crowds, so we make sure those are concerns,” Strasner said.
In mid-December, Jerry underwent his surgery under a specialist in Little Rock. Jerry’s Facebook and Instagram reveal that he spent the following week in high spirits, cheering on the Wonder Boys and Golden Suns from home.
Jerry’s second surgery, which took place in January, cleared up some scar tissue from the first operation. The celebrity bulldog is now in recovery. For the most part, he engages in the same events, however he cannot climb stairs. For now, when he visits Tucker Coliseum, he shows his support from the ground level.
But Jerry has an attribute that many bulldogs share: “stubbornness,” according to Strasner, and he is not willing to let these obstacles get him down; or, prevent him from doing what he loves, whether meeting new friends, sunbathing in the backyard, or taking a nap.
“Naps are his favorite pastime for sure,” Strasner affirmed.
Throughout everything, Jerry has exemplified strength and persistence. His positive attitude in the face of adversity reflects the drive of students at Tech, who face the challenges that come with earning a college education. Jerry continues to inspire positivity and team spirit in all who meet him.
“He really has taken on every role that we’ve asked of him, because we’ve asked a lot of him in eight years.”