How Champ Became Our Mascot - Infographic
Many know Champ as the beloved St. Bernard of Ashford University, but few know the history of how he came to represent our proud institution. Before the charming canine bounded across the silver screen in Beethoven or cheered on Ashford students from the sidelines, the breed rose to attention for other reputable work. Read on to discover the little-known history of this big-impact dog.
17th Century Origins
Between Switzerland and Italy, at approximately 8,000 feet above sea level, stretches a 49-mile route in the Alps known as the Great Saint Bernard Pass. The treacherous route long posed a danger to trekkers, and in 1050, the Augustine Monk Saint Bernard de Menthon founded a hospice and monastery on the Italian side to care for struggling travelers.
Around 1660-1670, the monks at the hospice obtained descendants of a mastiff-style Asiatic dog brought over by the Romans—their first St. Bernards. The dogs were given the name after the monk who founded the monastery, and they served as companions and watchdogs to monks and travelers at the hospice.
Several decades later, servants who were called marroniers, accompanied trekkers through the pass. By 1750, the dogs joined them along the route as well, their broad chests clearing away snow before the weary travelers. Soon, rescue missions became part of the St. Bernards’ duty as well, and packs of two or three dogs relied on their keen sense of smell to recover lost or injured travelers.
In the ensuing 150 years, the St. Bernards performed many life-saving missions. Upon finding stranded travelers, one dog would lie on top of them to keep them warm and protect them from the harsh elements, while another dog returned to the hospice for help.
The last documented recovery happened in 1897, when a St. Bernard saved a 12-year-old boy who was trapped in a crevice. The St. Bernards of St. Bernard Hospice reportedly saved more than 2,000 lives in total, according to Smithsonian writer Jess Blumberg (2016).
In the 1830s, the monks began breeding St. Bernards with Newfoundlands, and later in 1855, innkeeper Heinrich Schumacher began breeding the dogs. While he provided the hospice with dogs, he also exported the canines to Russia, England, and the United States. Many people began breeding the dogs with a variety of other canines, such as English mastiffs, which resulted in their common appearance today.
Throughout this entire period, the dogs remained without a common name. Hospice dogs, Alpine mastiffs, mountain dogs, Swiss Alpine dogs, and St. Bernard mastiffs were a few of the monikers. It wasn’t until 1880 that the Swiss Kennel Club formally recognized the breed as St. Bernards.
Until September 2004, 18 St. Bernards still belonged to the St. Bernard Hospice. These days, the monks now depend on helicopters for rescue missions throughout the Western Alps.
A Proper Mascot for Ashford University
Mount St. Clare College was founded by the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton, Iowa in 1918, and the school later adopted the Saints as the nickname of its athletic teams.
Many years later in spring 2006, as the school (renamed Ashford University in 2005) evolved into a local and online campus, it needed a mascot to symbolize its traditions and school spirit. The lovable Saint Bernard seemed a natural choice and was dubbed “Champ.” Ashford student, Sarah Bogue, then an employee at Facemakers, Inc. (an organization that creates costumes used widely in cinematic productions, including Disney and other companies worldwide) stepped forward with intuition and an idea to help Champ the St. Bernard make his official debut in May of 2006.
Sarah, a graduate from Mt. Carroll High School, attended Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois for two semesters before deciding to continue her pursuit of a degree through Ashford's former ASPIRE program in Clinton. "I'm very proud to say that I took part in the making of our Ashford University mascot," Sarah says.
Champ remains the amiable mascot of Ashford University today, and he can be spotted at commencement and other university events throughout the year.
Written by Kelsey Bober, Content Manager for Bridgepoint Education