College Spirit's Homecoming: Pacific's Original Mascot "Boxer" Returns

The original Boxer statue on wall in front of Forest Grove Campus.Oregon’s biggest mysteries have grown into great legends.

Where is the buried treasure on Neahkanie Mountain? What happened to D.B. Cooper? Does Bigfoot really exist?

At Pacific University, the whereabouts of the university’s beloved mascot, Boxer, developed into its own great legend. Missing from Forest Grove since 1969, the search for Boxer spawned many stories of its fate and numerous searches, all leading to dead ends.

Parts of Boxer — an ear, a foot and the tail — have all been returned to Pacific over the years. But the location of the original bronze incense burner, known as a qilin in Chinese culture, remained a mystery.

Until now. Boxer fans rejoice, because Boxer has returned home.

Fifty-five years of mystery and rumor ended Feb. 21, 2024, when Pacific President Jenny Coyle ’90, OD ’93, MS ’00 took possession of the original Boxer in southern California and returned him to the Forest Grove Campus.

While the statue has lost some of the shine that it had in past years, Boxer is largely the same as when it disappeared from the Forest Grove Campus in Fall 1969.

“I have been at Pacific for 35 years and I have heard all kinds of stories about Boxer and how much it meant to alumni,” Coyle said. “With the whole mystery of Boxer and the way people look back and think about him, to have it here in real life, real shape and real form is really humbling.

“Boxer is such a big part of Pacific and I have always felt like it was part of my Pacific story. To see it in real life, it is hard to describe what it feels like.”

Bruce Bishop ’68, who made the search for Boxer his passion for the last decade, was present when Boxer was turned over to Coyle. He shares her delight in seeing Boxer for the first time since he graduated.

“As patched together as it really is, it’s pretty remarkable that it is still identifiable all of these years later,” Bishop said. “It’s missing parts, but there’s no mistake it’s the original Boxer, which nobody expected that we would ever see again.”

ALumni Who Helped Return Boxer With President Coyle & Boxer

President Jenny Coyle ’90, OD ’93, MS ’00 with three alumni instrumental in the original Boxer's return to Pacific. Standing from left: Bruce Bishop '68, Gary Reynolds '72 and John Howard '72.

A (Boxer) Tale Of Intrigue

Over the last six decades, many rumors persisted about what happened to Boxer, all of which are urban legends.

One rumor was that the Black Student Union spirited Boxer away, taking responsibility for his disappearance in the student newspaper, the Index. They didn’t.

Another had Boxer being melted down and its metal used for other purposes. It wasn’t.

Yet another had Boxer being thrown from the Golden Gate Bridge into the icy waters of San Francisco Bay. It didn’t happen.

But the true story of where Boxer has been and how it returned to campus has as much intrigue as the rumors that kept the legend alive all of these years.

John Howard ’72 was one of three individuals who ended up with Boxer at the end of the final skirmish for the statue, known as a “Boxer Toss,” in 1969. While Howard was not the person who possessed Boxer all these years, it was Howard who started the process of bringing him back to Pacific five years ago. It started with an anonymous phone call he received in 2018, asking if he had read the latest issue of Pacific magazine.

The Winter 2018 issue featured the recast of the statue, known as Boxer III, facilitated by Bishop and presented to the university at the 50th reunion for the Class of 1968. It also brought up the question of the original Boxer’s whereabouts.

Howard knew. He had tried to tell his story to a Pacific staff member during a visit to campus in 2000, but the tale fell on deaf ears.

“I read the article and even though I was turned off by my experience from 20 years prior, I decided that I would try to find the guy and see if I could get it from him,” said Howard, who works as an attorney in Oxnard, California.

“The guy” was a college friend of Howard’s. He and Gary Reynolds ’72 were among the group who emerged victorious from the final Boxer Toss. Howard and Reynolds had put Boxer in the trunk of a car and a friend drove out of town as fast as he could.

The friend kept Boxer. Why he decided to keep the statue is not fully known, but it was never seen on campus again.

John Howard '72 and Gary Reynolds '72 With Boxer In 1969Howard and Reynolds saw Boxer one more time later that fall, at an off-campus location in Forest Grove. The two had insisted on a photo with Boxer as a reward for winning the toss. Their friend agreed … with some conditions.

“He said ‘Okay, you guys can pose with it over there,’ and he was controlling Boxer the whole time,” Howard said. “He wanted to make sure we weren’t going to run off with it, and we didn’t. We weren’t going to anyway.”

Upon reading the Pacific magazine article, Howard hired an investigator to locate the friend, whom he had lost contact with. Ironically, the friend lived in Oxnard just a couple of miles from where Howard’s law office was. And, yes, he still had Boxer.

They connected. They talked. They negotiated for nearly five years. The friend was initially resistant to returning Boxer but finally decided that the time had come. On an evening in January 2024, in a scene reminiscent of a crime drama, Howard and the friend met in a park along the railroad tracks in Oxnard. The exchange was made. Boxer’s journey home started.

But why go to all of the effort? Howard said it was in part in gratitude for the university having taken a chance on him as a student. He arrived at Pacific through a bridge program that allowed students to take summer classes to qualify for admission.

The other part was that he felt some remorse that the tradition of Boxer Tosses had ended with him and his friends, just a year after the university adopted Boxer as its official mascot.

“We were always going to throw it back out. We weren’t going to keep it,” Howard said. “When it didn’t turn out that way, and Boxer essentially disappeared from campus life, I always felt a little remorse for the role we played in it disappearing. We didn’t do anything malicious, but we played a role, so there was some motivation for wanting to rectify that.

“So when this all came back again, and it required a little effort on my part to get Boxer, I was more than willing to do it.”

Boxer On Wall Above Boxer Relief Sculpture On Forest Grove Campus

Boxer has endured as a beloved symbol of Pacific for over a century, evidenced by this metal relief art installation at the College Way gate of the Forest Grove Campus. The student body voted to change the school's official mascot from "Badgers" to "Boxers" in 1968.

The Lore Of Boxer

Boxer Next To Display Of His Missing Parts (Foot & Tail) In Train LibraryThe story of Boxer is well-known to members of the Pacific community. The statue was initially acquired by Rev. Joseph Elkanah Walker, Class of 1867, during his work as a missionary in China. His family donated the statue to Pacific around 1896.

Originally named “College Spirit,” the statue was put on display in Marsh Hall’s Brighton Chapel. The Pacific Index student newspaper coined the name “Boxer” in 1908 as a reference to the Boxer Rebellion.

Within a couple of years, students began stealing Boxer as a class prize. The tradition grew into “Boxer Tosses,” good-natured scrimmages where campus groups would battle, sometimes for hours, for possession of the statue. Boxer Tosses resulted in many a scrape and bruise for its participants and for the statue as well, with many parts re-welded onto the statue over the years.

Groups would also perform “Boxer Flashes,” showing Boxer to fellow students without giving up possession. A flash was enough to bring campus life to a full stop.

“If we were in class and somebody whispered ‘Boxer,’ it wouldn’t take more than a whisper and the entire classroom would clear out,” Bishop recalled. “Students would get up in the middle of class and walk out because they expected there was going to be a Boxer Flash. And that was the end of the learning experience for the day.”

Everyone agrees that while Boxer has returned to Pacific, the tradition of Boxer Tosses shouldn’t. Their time has passed. Those involved with the original Boxers’ return hope that it can continue to tie generations of Pacific students together in the Boxer Spirit.

“It is the campus mascot. It is what everyone talked about,” said Reynolds, who was also present for Boxer’s return to Coyle. “Everybody wanted to see it, touch it, be around it. It is campus spirit. Everybody wanted to be a part of that campus spirit.”

Howard hopes that the original Boxer can become a visible, revered part of the Pacific family again. “It has meaning,” he said. “I hope that it can be displayed in a place where people can see it, that it is given some reverence because it has meant something to people at Pacific for 130 years.

“Students aren’t going to fight over it anymore, because that’s a bad idea. But I hope it means something to them because it has meant something to so many since then.”

Thursday, March 21, 2024