Big gift means Baylor mascots' future

May 5, 2004

Waco Tribune Herald


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Baylor University is halfway to raising $950,000 to renovate the school's bear pit, thanks to a big gift from an alumnus.

While the mostly concrete facility has come under fire from animal rights groups as being inadequate, school officials say they're well on their way to building a more natural habitat.

Officials announced a major donation Tuesday by Arizona businessman and Baylor graduate Bill Williams and his wife, Eva.

When completed, the new facility will bear the Williams family name.

Williams said the bear mascot made an impact on him as a business student at Baylor in the 1970s.

"I thought it was a great touch for the university to have," said Williams, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Neither Williams nor Baylor would give the exact amount of his donation, but school officials say they are halfway to their goal. The Baylor/Waco Foundation has committed $50,000 to the project and other donors have chipped in, officials say.

The steering committee in charge of raising funds for the project had a kickoff meeting Tuesday, said Cathy Pleitz, director of special projects in Baylor's development office.

"It's a great way to get started," Pleitz said of the donation.

Baylor has had live mascots since 1917. The current facility was built in 1976 but has been criticized by groups such as SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), which claimed the bears were driven into a state of psychosis, living in the mostly concrete environment.

Officials say the renovated plaza will expand to include nearby Waco Creek and will more closely replicate bears' natural habitat with grassy areas, trees and a waterfall. It will also include a cabana with educational information about the bears.

Two North American Black bears, Lady, 2, and Joy, 3, live in the current facility.

Charles Lucenay, a junior who will be the student trainer next year, said that after the money is raised, it will take three months to draw up architectural plans, then about four to six months for construction.

"We're very excited about it," Lucenay said. "We're hoping it happens pretty soon."

For Bill and Eva Williams, it was a family decision to donate to the new habitat. Their daughter, Michelle, is a junior and son, Preston, will start in the fall.

"I'm very pleased at where Baylor is," Bill Williams said. "I think it's a great university to send your kids."

Brian Gaar can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 757-5741.

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