Legacy of the mistaken skunk

Heather Scarlett

Anyone who is new to Kent State campus may wonder what those little black, bushy-tailed animals hopping around campus are.

They’re called black squirrels, and if they don’t look familiar, it’s because they’re not exactly natives.

In February 1961, Larry Woodell, superintendent of grounds at Kent State, and M. W. Staples, a retired executive of the Davey Tree Expert Company, brought back ten of the rare squirrels from Canada.

Since then the black squirrels have come to represent Kent State in an unofficial way. Nancy Schiappa, associate director of alumni relations, said they eventually populated the campus and aren’t usually seen elsewhere, which may be why they became Kent State’s unofficial mascot.

“Black squirrels were not familiar in this area, so they were usually mistaken for skunks. The squirrels adapted very well, multiplied and conquered the campus. Now we have hundreds running all over the campus. I think because of their rarity, uniqueness and success, the black squirrels became a mascot for the university,” said Stacy Stewart, manager of Kent Student Center Programming and an art education graduate student.

Black squirrels have since become so popular that the university holds an annual event called the Black Squirrel Festival.

“The student center felt that there needed to be an event held in the beginning of fall to welcome new students and introduce them to the Kent community as well as the university community. Also, the black squirrel had never really been celebrated, although it was an unofficial mascot of the university,” Stewart said.

“The festival began in 1981 and started out very small. Now it has grown into one of the larger celebrations at Kent State,” she said.

As adorable as the squirrels look, it seems the little rodents cause a bit of damage on the university grounds.

Heather White, manager of the grounds department, said the grounds crew occasionally sees branches on the trees that have been stripped of bark, which kills the branches.

“Thankfully, they don’t litter,” White said.

Contact general assignment reporter Heather Scarlett at [email protected].