Bear Habitat Dedicated During Homecoming Celebration
by Emily Gibson, student newswriter
Before hundreds of students, alumni and donors on campus for Homecoming, Baylor University officially dedicated the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat Complex, the newly expanded and renovated facility that houses Baylor's North American black bear mascots.
"It is only fitting that on this Homecoming weekend that we would dedicate the new home of our beloved Baylor bears," said Cathy Pleitz, the campaign project coordinator who gave the opening remarks at the dedication ceremony.
Compared to the bears' previous home, the current habitat added nearly twice the amount of square footage. The natural environment for mascots Joy and Lady features a waterfall, pools, caves, deadfall trees and digging areas. Visitors also can enjoy the educational cabana with information about black bears. Enhanced viewing areas provide an up-close look at Joy and Lady in their new habitat.
Donors funded the entire complex and raised more than $1,155,000, with $205,000 of that in excess of the original goal. The surplus funds have gone into an endowment, which will pay for maintenance of the new complex and any additional care for the mascots.
More than 350 donors contributed to the new complex, who were recognized in a program available at the ceremony. Those who donated $1,000 or more have a permanent place on the donor wall of the complex. Donors who contributed at least $500 are recognized on engraved bricks, which are positioned in a walkway around the habitat.
Baylor Interim President William D. Underwood also spoke at the ceremony and recognized the main benefactors, Bill and Eva Williams of Scottsdale, Ariz.
"[Bill and Eva Williams] stepped forward and made the lead commitment a year and a half ago--their gift got the momentum going for this campaign," said Underwood, who emphasized that without the Williams' donation, the project would not have been a success.
Underwood recognized other benefactors, such as the family of Steve Hudson, who gave the lead gift for the previous Bear Plaza, and the family of Scott Adams, a Baylor student who tragically died during Diadeloso in 1990. The waterfall in the new complex is named in memory of Scott.
The Williams family - Bill and Eva, both Baylor graduates, and their children, Michelle, a senior, and Preston, a sophomore - took part in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, along with Joy and bear trainer Charles Lucenay. At the conclusion of the event, hundreds of Baylor alums and others streamed across Fifth Street to view the bears' new home.
Joy and Lady are not the only ones benefiting from the new million-dollar bear habitat. Students, faculty and staff and members of the community surrounding Baylor find the complex fascinating.
"It's the number one visited site on campus," said Pleitz. "It is just full of students, and people from the community even bring their children."
The main reason students and members of the community visit the bear complex is to see the playful interaction between sisters Joy and Lady. And, according to Lucenay, the new complex provides the bears with a more stimulating environment than ever before.
"Joy and Lady have really enjoyed their new home," said Lucenay, who knows the bears better than anyone else. "They have been very active in the yards and have found that their caves make for good napping."
Do bears in high spirits mean more public appearances? There is hope, said Lucenay.
"Our veterinarian's recommendation is that we do what is in the best interest of the bears," said Lucenay, who says the veterinarian is content with their situational attendance.
"If the bears are comfortable in that atmosphere then there is no problem with going."
Lucenay has cared for the bears for more than a year and a half. He and fellow Chamber members have the privilege of caring for the new facility. This bear complex, however, requires additional maintenance duties.
"The Chamber was very involved in the design and construction of the new exhibit," said Lucenay, emphasizing that Chamber continues to have full responsibility over the extensive complex.
The current facility is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lucenay said Chamber intends to apply for a license with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association as well.