Alumni Plaza Celebrates Legacy of Bruins Past and Present

Alumni Plaza Celebrates Legacy of Bruins Past and Present

A new Alumni Plaza featuring a 10-foot-tall, 1,200-pound bronze bear is serving as a rallying point for George Fox alumni and fans and as a visual reminder of what it means to be a Bruin – ready, fearless and strong.

At the center of the 3,400-square-foot plaza, completed in the fall, is “Mama Bear,” created by sculptor Ryan Wilhite over a three-year period. The bear looks to her right – the traditional place of honor – to symbolize that the plaza is a place of honor to be shared by all Bruins. It is mounted in the middle of the space to represent a bridging of the gap between Bruins past and present.

Wilhite, son of alumni Steve and Nancy Wilhite, drew inspiration for the design from time he spent observing bears while hunting and fishing in Alaska. He insisted the bear be realistic, and before creating the piece he did extensive research on bears’ anatomy and behavior. Once a sketch was selected, the bear was created first as a 30-inch clay sculpture before being enlarged and recreated as a full-sized clay statue.

Ultimately, about 30 molds, divided into two-foot sections, were created by Firebird Bronze foundry, which poured wax into them to create wax patterns that were cast in ceramic liquid and fired. Molten bronze was then poured, and assembly was done with welding and grinding. The finishing touch: a coloring with patina and wax. The final statue was delivered in time to be unveiled on homecoming weekend in October.

The plaza, made possible by an $1,800 in-kind donation by alumnus Phil Thornburg of the Winterbloom landscaping company, is located between the two venues alumni visit most often: Bauman Auditorium for performing arts productions and Stoffer Family Stadium for athletic events. The location of the plaza was strategically chosen for its proximity to Welcome Weekend and commencement events, serving as a bookend for the beginning and end of the undergraduate student experience.