by Darcie Shinberger
For nearly nine decades Western Illinois University has been known as the Leathernecks or the Fighting Leathernecks, but how did the University go from the “Fighting Teachers” to the Leathernecks? There’s only one answer …. because of one man.
Legendary WWI and WWII Hero and decorated Marine Corps Colonel Ray “Rock” Hanson began his long tenure at Western in 1926. It was because of Hanson’s determination and persistence, along with his Marine Corps legacy, that helped secure The Fighting Leathernecks as WIU’s team name in 1927. Today, Western remains the only public school in the U.S. with permission to use the Leathernecks as its nickname.
Hanson, who coached football, baseball, and basketball, served as director of the physical education department and is distinguished as the longest-serving athletic director at Western. Even after his retirement in 1964, Coach Hanson remained active at Western and in the Macomb community. He passed away Jan. 4, 1982, at the age of 86.
Hanson’s name lives on at Western not only through the school’s nickname, but Col. Rock III (a/k/a Rocky), an English bulldog and Western’s mascot, is named in honor of this brave recipient of the Silver Star citation for bravery, a French Croix de Guerre, and a Purple Heart.
The first English Bulldog, a symbol of the U.S. Marine Corps, arrived at WIU in September 1959 to serve as the first official Leathernecks mascot. A few weeks later, the Student Government Association Executive Council selected the name Col. Rock for the new mascot from more than 200 entries in a naming contest. WIU student Richard Stevenson submitted the winning name.
While Col. Hanson has been gone for nearly 30 years, his legacy continues each and every day at Western Illinois University.
And as we say at WIU… Every Day Is a Great Day to Be a Leatherneck!
Next time you’re at the WIU Bookstore, check out the new Ray “Rock” Hanson Vintage Collection! (You can also order online at bookstore.wiu.edu/Rock-Hanson-Collection_c_23.html.) Read more about it at www.wiu.edu/news/newsrelease.php?release_id=12897.