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6 Curious College Donations

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You know how you have those friends who you always call by their entire names? Civil engineering grad student Katie Kelly is one of those people. On the plus side, when she donates lots of money to Princeton in the future and gets a bathroom, lake or horse stable named after her, the Katie Kelly Lakeside Bathroom for the Equestrian Arts rolls off of the tongue really nicely. -Stacy Conradt

6 Curious College Donations
by Katie Kelly

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Universities are always looking for cash from their alumni (or anyone else with a big enough checkbook). But sometimes colleges are offered donations of another variety. Here are stories of six rather unusual gifts given to universities across the world.

University of Colorado at Boulder

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Endowing a school, building, or even a classroom with one's name is a pretty typical fundraising practice among universities today"¦ demanding a bathroom to commemorate yourself isn't quite as commonplace. Brad Feld, a local venture capitalist, donated $25,000 to the University of Colorado on the condition that a plaque would be placed on the door of a second-floor men's restroom in one of the campus' technology centers. He originally made the conditional offer to his alma mater, MIT, but was rejected. Feld, in an interview with Boulder's Daily Camera, states: "I just wanted a plaque outside of the men's room to inspire people as they walk in to do their business." Quite fittingly, the quote reads, "The best ideas often come at inconvenient times "“ don't ever close your mind to them."

Princeton University

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With an $11.2 billion endowment and a current plan to raise an additional $1.75 billion, Princeton knows how to bring in cash. But Andrew Carnegie's donation is a large liquid asset of a different type: a lake. Carnegie was a devoted philanthropist, founding libraries and universities in the United States and Scotland, and Princeton was eager to add their name to his list of lucky donors. While sitting for a portrait one day Carnegie regaled the artist, Howard Russel Butler, with tales of the lochs he had built in Scotland. Butler, an alumnus of Princeton University and its varsity crew team, described the crowded narrow canal that the team was practicing on and his plans to build an adjacent lake. Carnegie immediately took interest and undertook the project himself. At the dedication of Lake Carnegie, University president Woodrow Wilson (the future President of the United States) approached the donor, eager to involve Carnegie in funding new academic programs. Carnegie responded with disinterest, saying "I have already given you a lake." Wilson's reported response? "We needed bread, and you gave us cake."

Tufts University

jumboThe donation that P. T. Barnum made in 1889 dwarfs the small peanuts being donated to the University by recent college graduates. The great circus entertainer P.T. Barnum was one of the earliest supporters of Tufts, and he donated many of his deceased circus specimens to Tufts' Barnum Museum of Natural History, which he also contributed. Of all the exotic species he bestowed upon the college, his biggest (literally) and most impactful specimen donation was Jumbo the elephant. Barnum promised the skeleton of the 13-foot tall African elephant to the Museum of Natural History, and its hide to Tufts. Upon Jumbo's death, he was mounted and sent to live at Tufts. The students immediately took to Jumbo, and he became the school's mascot. However, tragedy struck in 1975 when Jumbo and the structure surrounding him, then known simply as Barnum Hall, was destroyed in a fire. Athletic administrators, desperate to keep a remnant of their beloved mascot, scooped up some of the ashes into a peanut butter jar which remains on the desk of the Tufts athletic director to this day.

Churchill College, Cambridge University

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Frances Crick (of DNA fame) had fundraising of a different type in mind for Cambridge University, intending to transition Churchill from leading the House of Commons to leading a house of ill repute. To honor former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Cambridge decided to build a new college in his honor in 1960. Crick was offered a fellowship in the college, and the fervent atheist accepted on the condition that a chapel never be constructed in the college, believing that religion had no place in a serious institution focused on science and technology. However, when funding for the construction of a chapel was offered by a donor, the college agreed to proceed. Crick protested to Churchill, who responded that "none need enter [the chapel] unless they wish." Crick responded by saying that if that is the case, the college ought to build a brothel under the same grounds and even included a check for 10 guineas as his contribution towards such a business. Unfortunately for Cambridge students, Crick's facetious proposal was not accepted and he resigned.

Cal-Poly Pomona

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W. K. Kellogg, of cereal fame, was an avid fan of Arabian horses since his childhood. After starting his namesake company with his brother and earning millions of dollars, he purchased land in Pomona, California, to establish a world-class Arabian horse ranch. In 1932 he donated the ranch to the state of California, stipulating that the horses must be kept, along with the traditional Sunday horse shows to display the grace and versatility of the Arabian horse. When the property was transferred to the California State Polytechnic University at Pomona in 1949, the school agreed to uphold these terms. The Sunday shows continue today, performed by a student drill team on the first Sunday of each month, October through May.

University of Calgary

While light saber wars between students are routine at universities like Cal Tech and MIT, the University of Calgary lays claim to one of the largest collections of sci-fi material in the galaxy. When devoted sci-fi collector Bob Gibson died in 2001, his family had no idea what to do with his 30,000 piece collection - the boxes of books and magazines took up most of the house. His son, an alumnus of the University of Calgary, decided that the collection would be best preserved and shared by donating it to his alma mater. Thus, with the establishment of the Bob Gibson Collection of Speculative Fiction, the University of Calgary instantly became the home of one of the world's leading collections of science fiction.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
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Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
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If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

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If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

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While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
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Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
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Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''

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