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Gifts of Yesteryear - The Black Bear Statue

 The Black Bear statue, a well known campus landmark in front of Memorial Gym, was donated by Wallace '32 and Gina '33 Humphrey

The Black Bear statue, a well known campus landmark in front of Memorial Gym, was donated by Wallace '32 and Gina '33 Humphrey

The black bear has been the University of Maine’s official mascot since 1914, so the statue of the animal that stands on the lawn in front of Memorial Gym is one of the best known campus landmarks.

Snarling, its claws extended, the eight-foot bear made out of gunmetal bronze exemplifies UMaine’s fighting spirit.

The statue was erected in 1979, thanks to the generosity of Wallace “Bud” H. Humphrey, ’32, and Virginia “Gina” Berry Humphrey, a member of the Class of ’33.

Although he donated the $18,000 for the statue, Wallace Humphrey never got to see the end result. Tragically, the Bristol, R.I., resident – one of Narragansett Bay’s leading yachtsmen — died in 1978 in a boating accident while attempting to anchor his yacht in a squall at Big Tom Creek off the coast of Bryan County, Ga. He was 69.

A native of Medford, Mass., Wallace Humphrey was chairman of the board of Red Farm Studio Company — greeting card publishers located in Pawtucket, R.I. — and was nationally known in the greeting card industry. A heavy contributor to various UMaine scholarship funds, he was extremely active in alumni affairs over the years. He served as regional chair for UMaine’s Second Century Fund, was a member of the Alumni Council, the Development Council and the President’s Club, and was chair of the General Alumni Association’s career award selection committee.

Upon Wallace’s death, then UMaine President Howard Neville sent condolences to the family, telling them, “He was such a great guy. The world is better for his having been here, but it is less now that he is gone.” A scholarship in memory of Wallace Humphrey was established in 1978 for Maine students who have shown academic achievement in an agricultural curriculum.

According to information from Fogler Library’s Special Collections, the black bear Wallace and Gina gave to UMaine wasn’t the first to stand on that site. The original was made of wood and had been donated by the Class of ’62. After its right paw was removed apparently during some student hijinks in the early 1970’s, it became the focus of a number of humorous stories published in the Maine Campus.

“The Maine Bear stands at the end of the mall in a somewhat humiliated position after its right appendage was cleanly severed last Saturday night,” read one story in the student newspaper. “The paw was found at the base of the statue Sunday morning and it was felt the paw was severed when a person or persons tried to swing from it. An investigation by University police failed to obtain any leads. Repairs have been estimated at $10.”

A subsequent article noted that “a group of good humorists placed a sling on the remaining arm” and that the bear was “doing well.” It was unclear whether vandals or rotting wood caused the damage, according to the story.

The statue was removed Dec. 31, 1975, leaving the pedestal empty for three and a half years. In 1976 the Maine Campus Bear Fund was created to raise money for a replacement. Chaired by two journalism students who put advertisements in the student newspaper asking for donations, the fund collected $1,200. In 1977, the Black Bear Committee, chaired by Professor David Trafford, continued to seek a replacement.

Eventually, the Humphreys stepped forward and donated funds for a new statue. Patricia L. Verani of Londonderry, N.H., was commissioned as sculptor.

The dedication was held during Alumni Weekend on June 9, 1979 — eight months after Wallace’s untimely death. A Maine Campus article headlined, “Hibernation over for the Maine Bear,” explained that the statue hadn’t been finished in time for the ceremony, so a plaster model filled in. It remained for the next two weeks until the bronze bear arrived.

Two hundred alumni and guests attended the dedication at which James Milton Sims of Atlanta, president of the UMaine class of 1932, and a friend of Wallace’s, cited the benefactor’s generosity and devotion to his alma mater.

Several months after the statue was raised, Alan Lewis, then director of facilities, sent Gina Humphrey an update.

“The Bear is being received very well,” he said in his letter. “During Homecoming and Parents Weekend there was continuous picture-taking of parents, students, girl friends, boy friends and alumni posing in front of your Bear.”

Gina died in 2002 at the age of 92. The couple had one daughter, Claudia Scott of Barrington, R.I.; three grandchildren, Thomas Scott, Steven Scott, and Kimberly S. Goyette; and five great, great grandchildren.

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