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This Sunday marks 47th anniversary of the last time Boxer was seen



COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY HERITAGE ONLINE - A Pacific University student runs with Boxer under his arm during a Boxer toss, where opposing groups fought to possess the school mascot.The Pete Truax of today is a gray-haired, elderly statesman and mayor who presides over the Forest Grove City Council.

But the Pete Truax of April 1968 was a Gamma Sigma fraternity brother at Pacific University, careening down Tualatin Valley Highway in the trunk of a car driven by the university’s Dean of Women. He was clutching Boxer, the university’s mysterious mascot, preparing for one of the greatest Pacific traditions, a Boxer “flash,” or “toss.”

For the uninitiated, “Boxer” was a statue of a qilin, a mythical creature popular in Chinese culture for thousands of years. The story of how the small bronze statue became so high-profile and important to Pacific — even ending up in former President Richard Nixon’s arms at one point — is, in many ways, the story of the university itself.

Pacific was founded by Christian missionaries from the Congregational Church in New England, including Elkanah Walker. Walker’s son, Joseph, was an early graduate of the university who in 1872 became a missionary himself, venturing to what was then the mysterious land of China.

While there, Joseph Walker acquired the statue and sent it to his mother in Forest Grove for safekeeping in the 1890s, during the “Boxer Rebellion,” an uprising by native Chinese to protest Christian missionaries.COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY HERTIAGE ONLINE - This was one of Pacific University's earliest Boxers, circa 1910.

Exactly how and when Pacific formally acquired Boxer from Walker’s mother is not clear. The statue at the time was not highly regarded (nor was it known as Boxer).

But its name and fame emerged in the early 1900s, when a group of students stole the statue from the campus chapel and hid it as a prank.

Several years later, the students returned Boxer to campus and “flashed” him, which touched off melees among other groups for possession of the statue.

“Flashing” and “tossing” are important terms in Boxer lore.

“Flashing” refers to someone holding up Boxer where a crowd could see him but not grab him — before disappearing again. Sometimes a flash would come as a surprise at a gathering such as an athletic event. Other times Boxer was flashed from a speeding car or even a helicopter. Sometimes he was protected by armed Pinkertons or by a force of athletes.

For a toss, which refers to tossing Boxer into a crowd, a rumor might spread that people should be at a certain place at a certain time. Even then, the anticipated toss might just be a flash. Or a flash might become a toss.

For decades, fraternities and other clubs flashed Boxer, initiating tosses that let rival groups claim possession of the statue.

The tosses sometimes became violent, with students suffering broken bones and other injuries. The April 1968 Boxer toss was one such brutal affair. It began innocently enough, with Truax emerging from the car trunk once on campus and tossing Boxer into a mob before running for safety.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF WASHINGTON COUNTY HERITAGE ONLINE - A few days after Alpha Zeta fraternity members won possession of Boxer in a 1968 melee sparked by a toss, they brought the mascot to meet presidential candidate Richard Nixon, who was campaigning in the Portland area.After fistfights, wrestling matches, bumps, bruises and torn clothing, the Alpha Zeta fraternity secured possession of Boxer, and a few days later took him to meet Richard Nixon at a nearby political rally. The then-presidential candidate, who was busy campaigning for the Oregon primary, agreed to pose for a photo holding Boxer.

Fast-forward to Oct. 15, 1969. Richard Nixon had won the Presidency and campuses across the nation were experiencing unrest over both the war in Vietnam and racial strife in the United States. Pete Truax had graduated and was preparing to be shipped off by the Army for battle in Vietnam.

Back at Pacific, many of Truax’s former classmates were preparing to participate in a campus protest against the Vietnam War, part of a nationwide day of protests known as the “Vietnam Moratorium.” Tensions nationally and locally ran high, and against the wishes of nearly everyone, including Truax, Alpha Zeta chose that day to flash Boxer.

The leaders of Pacific’s Moratorium movement were not amused and urged the Alpha Zetas to reconsider. “It’s a legalized riot,” one of those leaders, Brenda Johnson, told a reporter for The Oregonian.

The fraternity postponed the Boxer toss, but only for one day. When the fighting was done on Oct. 16, 1969, the Black Student Union had possession of the statue and used the capture to make a point.

“Black people today are always being accused of various violent incidents,” a member of the Black Student Union told the Pacific University newspaper, The Index. “This is one morbid, barbaric tradition which must be brought to a halt now.”

In 2006, a local artist created a seven-foot sculpture meant to resemble the much smaller original Boxer used in tosses. The outdoor sculpture sits on University Avenue near College Way.

But there has not been a verified sighting of the Boxer Truax tossed since that day in 1969 — 47 years ago this Sunday.COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY HERITAGE ONLINE - A group of Pacific University students (possibly fraternity members) gaze adoringly at Boxer in this posed photo from 1968.

Watch a historic video of a Boxer toss

Pacific University archivist Eva Guggemos recently uncovered a 16-millimeter film of the April 1968 Boxer toss, the only known video of the tradition. Ken and Kris Bilderback, along with Tualatin Valley Community Television, have incorporated the video into a short documentary about Boxer. The show includes an interview with Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax, plus many more stories about Boxer’s amazing and mysterious history. You can watch the show at kenbilderback.com.

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