Throwback post to the winter 1996 Vermont Quarterly. The issue included a feature on evidence that mountain lions were returning to Vermont and the following related piece about the catamount’s reign in Burlington as UVM’s mascot. 

Catamounts in Natural Fibers and Polyester

February 6, 1926, the Vermont Cynic asked undergraduates whether they wanted a mascot and offered up a ballot—lynx, wildcat, other, or shelve the idea. Response was limited.

Try, try again. At a vote, exclusively for male students, held later in the year the question came up once more. This time the ballot suggested “tomcat, camel, cow, or catamount.” By a vote of 138-126 the catamount prevailed. (We’re not sure of the runner-up, but it’s fun to consider the camel.)

Thus began the catamount’s run as UVM mascot, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Generations of UVM students have known the various incarnations of Charlie and Kitty Catamount as they’ve cavorted the bleachers of Patrick or Gutterson. A UVM student climbed into Charlie Catamount’s fake fur for the first time in the fifties; when Kitty joined him in the seventies, the couple was married at a UVM hockey game.

Only those on campus in the late sixties will remember one of the more interesting chapters in catamount history, the era of Charles I, aka “Rink,” UVM’s lone live catamount mascot. rink

Rink was the brainchild of Nancy and Robert “Tiny” Leggett, a South Burlington couple who were avid UVM hockey fans in the 1960s. After floating the idea with a few players and coaches, the Leggetts went to great lengths to obtain a puma cub born in captivity at a Peoria, Illinois, zoo. Cat in hand, they faced more obstacles in the process of getting Rink approved by state and university officials.

In fall of 1968, the UVM Student Association and Athletic Council both gave Rink the official distinction as UVM’s mascot. The students formed a Catamount Committee that established a fund to help the Leggetts keep up with Rink’s quickly growing appetite and upkeep. Rink buttons and photographers were sold; Alpha Chi sisters ironed shirts for fifteen cents each to raise money for Rink.

Rink and the Leggetts quickly became family, and local celebrities in the process. The young puma summered with the Leggetts on their houseboat moored off of Burton Island State Park, developed a taste for corn on the cob, and got accustomed to travel in a specially fitted VW bus. In a piece titled “Labor Pains While Giving Birth to a College Mascot,” Tiny Leggett wrote: “As long as we called him a puma or a catamount, everything was fine. But refer to him as a mountain lion or cougar, and many of his ‘fans’ would head for the hills.” Rink became comfortable around crowds through visits to the college snack bar and a local pizza pub, where “he enjoyed his roast beef subs.” He took in football practices, enjoying the chance to wrestle with the tackling dummies, and became an attraction at UVM contests home and away. Leggett wrote that Rink, who was caged at UVM athletic events, would offer a growl of his own when the fans yelled.

Popular as he was, Rink’s tenure as UVM mascot was brief. Growing from ten to 150 pounds in the nineteen months that the Leggetts cared for him, the cat had become too much of a burden. The Burlington Free Press of January 3, 1969, reported that the couple planned to donate Rink to Canada’s Granby Zoo, leaving the mascot duties to those funny looking, two-legged catamounts.

– Thomas Weaver


Count me among the many in the throes of New Year’s resolve to clean up, clear out, simplify the old home and the thousands of things in it. That took me up to our terrifying attic a few days ago where a plastic bin labeled “Tom’s winter stuff” had an assortment of forlorn single gloves and forgotten hats. A teal (early 1990s were all about teal in outdoor clothing, remember?) and navy blue stocking hat had a label inside—“Hand Knit by Judi St. Hilaire”— that revealed a good part of why it was an attic survivor and would live through the current round of culling.

When I got the hat way back when, alumna St. Hilaire ’81 was in the thick of an impressive career as one of America’s top distance runners. In the thick of my own career as one of Chittenden County’s B-team distance runners, writing about St. Hilaire was a choice assignment. Then Vermont Quarterly editor Leona Griffin indulged me with the gas expenses to drive down to Massachusetts and interview St. Hilaire for a story that appeared in the spring 1991 issue of the magazine.

After rediscovering the hat (which I bought from St. Hilaire, who had a sideline knitting them, after the interview), I was impelled to go down to the back issues file in the basement here at University Communications on Williams Street and also unearth the story I wrote. To be honest, it can be a little painful to read something you wrote 24 years ago. I winced a bit at some star-struck cub reporter syndrome that was clearly going on. But enough with the disclaimers, here’s a look into VQ past that might appeal to the runners out there. The piece below is excerpted from the full profile.


It is the first day of spring 1991 in Dedham, Massachusetts, but this part of town (at the junction of routes 1 and 128) doesn’t have much to do with spring. It is home to parking lots, Nissan dealerships, sixteen-screen movie theaters, and some more parking lots. Spring will have a hard time nudging up through the pavement.

J.C. Hillary’s, “A Country Tavern for Ladies and Gents,” is a convenient place to interview Judi St. Hilaire—it’s just down the road from her masseuse, where she has a regular Wednesday afternoon visit. She arrives on the minute for a two o’clock appointment. Dressed in pink, white, and black Nike jacket and pants, St. Hilaire, so vibrantly fit, seems the surest sign of spring for miles. judi

The lunch hour rush is beginning to clear as St. Hilaire sips a diet Coke and discusses her running career. The is a friendly intensity about her; she listens carefully, laughs and smiles easily. St. Hilaire frequently asks, “Do you know what I mean?” and pauses for an answer. Not so much conversational filler—she wants to know.

St. Hilaire admits that she didn’t have much idea where her running was taking her when she graduated from UVM in 1981. She came to UVM from Lyndon Institute in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, one of the first women ever to receive athletic aid at the university.

After a relatively slow start her first year (she laughs about putting on weight, the dreaded “freshman ten,” almost instantaneously), St. Hilaire began to develop into one of the nation’s top collegiate distance runners, rewriting UVM’s record book in the process. She still owns the school record for every distance from 800 meters through ten kilometers.

Athletes of St. Hilaire’s caliber, but of a different gender and in a different sport, would have known exactly where they were headed after graduation—to the bank. Though prize money is available to runners these days, in 1981 they and other track and field athletes were still laboring for little more than the glories of sport, the ideals of amateurism, and trophy case mementos.

Today, St. Hilaire is able to make her living from running. She puts it this way. “I make more than I would as a dental hygienist,” her course of study at UVM. She doesn’t need to be more specific to convey that the financial rewards of professional running pale in comparison to other sports. First place in a major road race may take home earnings comparable to seventeenth place in the South Beloit Country Club’s Annual LPGA Classic.

It is difficult to believe, given baseball’s Diamond Jims who dicker over millions, but St. Hilaire is apologetic about the central role that money plays in her motivation to continue training. “If I wasn’t able to make a living from it, I probably would become a recreational runner. I wouldn’t be training as hard as I do.” She laughs. “It may sound greedy. But I’m 31 years old, if I were 25 it might be different. You can’t survive without money.”

At the time the article was written, St. Hilaire had her eye on the 1992 Olympics. Previous Olympic dreams had been foiled by a U.S. boycott, kidney stones, and back injuries. She made her mark in a big way at the ’92 Games, finishing eighth in the 10K, contested in the heat and humidity of Barcelona.


The three towering white pines on the UVM Green are a familiar, signature sight. They’re old trees, for sure, but not old enough to date back to the earliest days of the university. Still, I can’t walk past them without thinking about what the Green once looked like, a dense patch of forest on the hilltop in a shaggy frontier town.

As UVM history/folklore has it, two hundred and fourteen years ago UVM’s first president, Daniel Clark Sanders, stood with axe in hand looking up at a tree an awful lot like the one pictured above. Working side by side with UVM’s first students, he would clear the towering white pines then set to work using those logs to construct the university’s original building. Historic accounts describe the Reverend Sanders as a strapping, powerful man, a sort of nineteenth-century higher education action hero. (If Hollywood were to put UVM’s story on the big screen, I’m casting Liam Neeson in the lead role as president/man of the cloth/ass-kicker.)

In the year 1800, President Sanders wrote: “There was everything to be created and many shrunk away from the bold and arduous labor of founding a college in a wilderness.”

Think about it. Everything to be created.  A college in a wilderness.

As we walk the campus of the University of Vermont today, it’s all too easy to forget the faith, courage, audacity, and just plain “arduous labor” that went into creating this place in what at the time were the deepest wilds of this country. Easy to forget, but essential to remember. Just as those pines on the Green today very likely trace back to a pine cone that fell from a tree that fell to an axe swung by our hearty president, so too does UVM’s DNA include a healthy bit of bold Daniel Clark Sanders coding. Not only DCS, but also the handful of students who worked shoulder to shoulder with him and the many early Burlingtonians who nurtured the fledgling school.

Shared effort is a force of nature, and it runs deep in UVM’s character.






Poet T.S. Eliot decried April as “the cruelest month.” It’s not so easy for painters either. But Sarah Rutherford ’06 hasn’t been too slowed by cold temperatures, some rain, and even a little snow this week as she’s painted a new mural on the wall outside of the Living/Learning Complex. Visible from Main Street, and long the place of the “El Salvador” mural, it’s a highly visible spot. And Rutherford is doing justice to it with impressive, colorful work that resonates both with the place and the artwork that preceded it.

Rutherford earned her bachelor’s in studio art at UVM, where professors such as Frank Owen and Bill McDowell were key influences. She was also a resident of Living/Learning and has kept in touch with the Pottery Co-op’s Joan Watson for years. Rutherford makes her living as an artist/illustrator in Rochester, New York. Murals are among her focuses. A recent project was for the city’s Highland Hospital. When Living/Learning Director John Sama was on the look out for an artist to create a new mural this spring, bringing an alumna back for a week in-residence was a natural fit.sarah

Before letting the spray paint fly, Rutherford spent time with current L/L students discussing possible themes for the mural. The result is a work that reflects the growth and emergence of the college years, a time when students find their voices and power to speak for what they believe, Rutherford says. With that, one can’t help but think of the “pan y educacion” banner that was an element of the El Salvador mural, and feel like that same spirit is still there.

Public art means public artists. Rutherford says she’s had lots of interaction with students and others walking past this week. As a tour of admitted students passed by, one young woman interested in an art major read the sign about the work in progress, saw that the artist is an alumna, and quizzed her about the Art Department.

“I think I convinced her to come to UVM,” Rutherford says. Her work here is nearly done.


SmithsBlisteinsThe old photo of six children seems to capture a perfect summer idyll—flopped down in a grassy field after a round of play, the family dog wagging happily behind them. It’s pretty much what Bill Smith, father of three of the children pictured, had in mind when he moved his family to Westford, Vermont in 1946. An African-American man weary from a lifetime of racial prejudice, Smith was looking for a new start, a place that could live up to his refusal to “accept less than the birthright of human dignity.”

Mid-twentieth century Vermont, where Bill, his wife Helen, and their three children, Anne, William, and Bradley, would be the only African-American family in town, would seem an odd choice. Even Smith couldn’t fully explain his decision, but said he was drawn by the state’s historical opposition to slavery and its proximity to Canada. Smith, an author who wrote under the name Will Thomas, told the story in The Seeking, an autobiography of his life, including the Vermont years, that was originally published in 1953.

Mark Madigan G’87, professor of English at Nazareth College, shared the photo of the Smith children last Thursday during a talk in UVM Special Collections about The Seeking, Will Thomas, and Madigan’s own scholarly work bringing the book back into print through University Press of New England. It was a homecoming of sorts for Madigan, who received his master’s at UVM, and began to find his scholarly path in the library’s Special Collections with a grad-student job creating abstracts of author Willa Cather’s letters to fellow writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Both writers have continued to be a focus for Madigan throughout his career.

Madigan knew about Thomas from his years immersed in Fisher’s papers in Special Collections. Fisher and Thomas had met when Thomas moved to Vermont, and the fact that the major tastemaker in literary circles in the day wrote an introduction to The Seeking surely gave the publication a boost. At the time of the book’s release, Thomas promoted his memoir with an essay read on Edward R. Murrow’s This I Believe radio program.

But few in Vermont, or beyond, remember Thomas now. As Madigan said at the outset of his talk, “Some writers, as the saying goes, need no introduction. Will Thomas is not one of those writers.” The impetus to bring his work to the attention of more readers came when Madigan stumbled on a vintage copy of The Seeking at the now defunct North Country Books in Burlington. “I knew it was important and needed to be re-issued,” Madigan said. Placing the book in New England literary history, he makes the case that it is “arguably the first long-form book written by an African American resident of Vermont.”

On a snowy day that closed the university for the morning hours, Madigan’s talk last week drew a circle of particularly interested citizens from Westford, the small village about twenty miles northeast of Burlington. Among them was Guy Roberge, a lifetime resident of Westford, who had the author’s wife, Helen, as an elementary school teacher and counted the Smith children among his playmates. Roberge’s memory of the acceptance of the family in Westford squared with what the author wrote in The Seeking.

For scholar Madigan, it was a nice surprise to have the opportunity to meet someone who knew the family directly and remembered them well. He’s corresponded with Will and Helen’s daughter Anne, and said she’d wondered if his talk at UVM would put him in contact with anyone who remembered them from their time in Vermont.

“It’s gratifying to bring this book back into print for readers, but also for the family—to do justice to this family,” Madigan said.


The Seeking is available from University Press of New England. 

Semester break 1999-2000, and Bill Tickner was living the 19-year-old guy’s dream. Fraternity, season pass to Stowe, tons of free time, girlfriend, snowboard—sort of a Mountain Dew commercial come to life.

“I was seemingly having a great time,” he recalls. “But I realized this was as happy as I would ever be living the way I was. The time had come to redirect my life.” 

Bill Tickner during his student days when he was Student Government Association president in 2002-03.

Bill Tickner during his student days when he was Student Government Association president during his senior year in 2002-03.

The fact that the trappings of the undergraduate good life didn’t bring a deeper happiness, Tickner says, was because he was harboring an internal conflict, the rift in identity faced by a gay person living a closeted existence.

“Nothing bothers me more than someone putting a limit on me,” Tickner says. In fact, the UVM sophomore was putting serious limits on who he was, a realization that convinced him that it was time to come out.

Evidence of Tickner’s energy and force of will is clear from the flurry of activity that led up to and immediately followed his decision to come out. Within the space of a week, he helped lead the final steps of a UVM Student Government Association drive to deliver a unanimous resolution to Vermont legislators in support of the then-under-consideration civil union laws. He came out to his student government friends and colleagues, his fraternity brothers, and his family in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Then Tickner withdrew from school, loaded his snow and surf boards into his Honda Accord, and set-off on a cross-country trip to spread the word about gay rights by delivering speeches and talking with student groups at other colleges and universities.

It would be easy to see hitting the road as a quick escape from turmoil brought about by his revelation. Talk to Tickner a while, and it becomes clear that it was more an embrace of a new identity than escape from an old one. Friends and family were accepting and supportive. In particular, Tickner was astounded and touched, by the reaction of his Fiji brothers. “You’re not leaving,” one brother told him. “You’re still a member of this fraternity.”

Tickner would spend the next three months on the road, logging 24,000 miles and visiting some forty colleges and universities with his gay rights message. Determined to be self-sufficient, the trusty Accord was his home on the road. Back seats folded down, he slept with his feet in the trunk. “It was warm. I had a stereo. What more do you need?” he says with a smile.

This year back at UVM, Tickner balances coursework in sociology (business minor), serving on the executive committee of his fraternity, working as a teaching assistant in Sociology I, and leading the Student Government Association as president. Building campus diversity and creating a safe climate for all remains a key concern for Tickner. He notes that it bothers him when friends tell him that with his Joe College pursuits he’s such a “normal” gay person and therefore acceptable.

“Difference makes us stronger as a community,” he says. “This would be a real boring campus if everyone was the same. I think we’re doing well at UVM, but I prefer not to compare us to other places. Zero discrimination should be the standard at the University of Vermont. We’re moving forward on that, but we’re not there and until we are, I’m not going to rest.”

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2002 edition of Vermont Quarterly. On the occasion of Bill’s visit to UVM’s Career + Experience Hub on February 25, 2014, to talk with current students about his career at Google and the corporation’s commitment to social responsibility, we wanted to share it again. 


Writing a magazine article or editing an issue, leaving a fair bit of material on that proverbial “cutting room floor” is just a standard part of the process. Sometimes leaving stuff out hurts. Other times, not so much. In the case of Seth Moeller, a Class of 1989 alumnus I interviewed for an article on career services initiatives that will appear in the forthcoming issue of the magazine, it hurt.

Seth, who is president of KGA, a Framingham, Massachusetts based firm in the human resources business, has a long career in the field and a good deal of wisdom to share with current students and new grads as they enter the job market. He’s shared that wisdom with UVM classes and at career services events, and we also tried to pass along some of the same in the article for the next Quarterly.

Seth Moeller ’89

Seth Moeller ’89

One thing I didn’t have space for in the print version of the magazine, though, was Seth’s response to how a new grad should tackle that sometimes scary word “networking.” Here, with a little editing and, unfortunately, without Seth’s impassioned delivery over the phone, is what he had to say:

The seniors I meet with are interested in doing what I’m talking about. They understand the need to—they just don’t know what to say, they don’t know how to make an approach. Getting them over that hump is ridiculously easy. There’s nothing complicated about this other than putting it in motion.

They need to have some targets, career targets of interest. ‘I think I want to go into healthcare. I think I want to be in finance.’ Whatever it is. Career targets of interest with the understanding that those will evolve, they will be refined, there will be learning and those will dramatically change. But to enter the discussion you need to have some basic career targets of interest and you don’t need to be worried about whether or not they are the absolutely best target for you. That will evolve.

The next step is doing the basic homework around who is available to talk to. Reaching out to an alumni network, asking that that be made available, going back to the alumni you already know, or talk to the friends of family that you have in your life. The supporters are out there. It is about taking the initiative and identifying who you’ll talk to.

Third, it is about having a very simple story and a very simple request. The very simple story is saying ‘this is what I’m interested in and this is what I’m trying to learn.’ Elevator pitch—I hate those words. People try to pack too much into it, and it becomes too complicated for people. You don’t need to be in a time box to do it. It’s a couple of sentences, and then a request. Can I meet and talk with you about this because you’re in a career that’s relevant? Who do you know that perhaps I should speak with? Can you make an introduction?

That alone cracks open 80 percent of the networking process. Having a little bit of a story, identifying people, and then introducing yourself with a bit of a mission and then making clear requests. Everybody wants to help, but you can’t assume that they know how to help you. You have to help them do that.

There is networking within a nutshell.

Read more about Seth, multiple young alumni who have recently cracked a tough job market, and the new face of career services at UVM in the spring 2014 Vermont Quarterly, in the mail March 1.


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