Three cheers for 50 years of Michigan Tech’s beloved ringleader of loud and proud Husky fans, giver of hugs and high-fives, and receiver of continuous support by dedicated alumni.
The Johnny Mac was buzzing on the first Saturday night in August. Michigan Technological University’s Alumni Reunion hockey game always draws a crowd to the arena, but this was an extra-special occasion: Blizzard T. Husky’s 50th birthday party.
Blizzard is not yet 50, technically, but carries on the spirit of Tech’s first mascots, who debuted 50 years ago. So it was fitting that the VIPs who came to celebrate this milestone included the original mascots, 1971 graduates Bill and Kathy Wassberg, and mascot program supporters Dave ’68 ’71 and Sharron Paris.
The Parises have been Blizzard T. Husky helpers since the four-fingered furry friend of Huskies everywhere was born on Jan. 31, 1997. Longtime Tech donors, they assisted with the naming contest (the other options were Harley, Heikki, Howie and Yoopie). Their support of the mascot program was inspired by seeing their nephew in action as the Ferris State Bulldog. “We saw how hard he worked,” says Sharron, a former MTU registrar who had a nearly 30-year career with the University.
"It’s not just walking around. It takes personality and patience. Blizzard plays an important role and is on campus in many different ways."
“It’s always neat to see Blizzard interacting with young people,” said Dave. And despite being 350 in dog years, “Blizzard stays young.”
Once a Husky, Always a Husky
At 67,000 strong, Michigan Tech alumni stay connected throughout the year on campus and around the globe. Held Aug. 4-6, 2022’s Alumni Reunion brought nearly 450 Huskies and friends to town for a full weekend of activities, including on- and off-campus trips down memory lane. Find out how MTU alumni and friends keep the Husky spirit alive, join the fun — and save the date for Alumni Reunion 2023, Aug. 3-5.
But who came before Blizzard?
A lot of unofficial shenanigans. Or “rats and bats and pollywog tails,” as original mascot Bill Wassberg playfully puts it. He and wife Kathy were the first officially approved Tech mascots to take the ice. They cooked up the mascot idea for the simplest of reasons: They thought a nationally known collegiate hockey powerhouse deserved one. And, with recently secured student loans allowing them to quit their jobs, they had the time. “We were bored,” joked Bill. Legendary hockey coach John MacInnes had no objections to their request as long as they got off the ice after warm-ups.
The mascot gig was a team act. Bill donned a crumpled bear costume of unknown origins that was resurrected from a locker. “It stunk so bad Kathy wouldn’t let it in the house,” he says. Kathy constructed a mouse suit by modifying a clown costume pattern that she topped with a handmade papier-mache head. It, too, eventually acquired the unforgettable aroma of a hockey locker room. They didn’t have mascot names. They were simply Bear and Mouse.
Many of today’s Blizzards can skate circles around the rink (watch Blizzard's smooth moves on Michigan Tech TikTok). Neither Wassberg was proficient on the ice. “The spectators thought we were pretending to skate badly — the truth is, we didn’t know how,” says Bill.
There are few mementos of either mascot. Despite requests over the years, only a couple of photos have turned up. Due to its abiding odor, the bear costume had to be thrown out. The mouse costume, stored in the Wassberg attic, met its untimely demise ironically — mice chewed up the head.
There was no formal support for the mascot in those days. Bill credits the late Bob Olson, the original voice of Michigan Tech Athletics, former Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz and wife Gail and others for volunteering a helping hand. Today, support from contributors like the Parises ensures that students portraying Blizzard won’t have to pass one pungent dog suit back and forth. The investment, say the Huskies who create and sustain the program, is well worth it.
"It’s the best outreach program there is. The mascot doesn’t have to say a thing."
True to form, Blizzard remained speechless at the party, but was still the center of attention, managing to eloquently convey both celebration and appreciation. The giant Husky in the Number 85 jersey circulated through the crowd, posing for endless selfies. Smiles lingered long after each photo was snapped. The Parises and Wassbergs got a kick out of watching the action — and getting their own photos with Blizzard.
There’s No Spirit Like Michigan Tech Spirit
“At Michigan Tech we have the perfect trifecta,” said Athletic Director Suzanne Sanregret in her remarks at the celebration. “Blizzard, Mitch’s Misfits and the Huskies Pep Band. These spirit groups hold very special meaning for our student-athletes and staff.
"Here’s to 50 years of smiles, photos and — much to Blizzard’s dismay — tail pulling!"
They’re our true fans, through and through. Blizzard gives us hugs, win or lose. The pep band is pure talent and creativity — so good that our opponents want to hire them. They are an original that no one in the country can replicate. And no one is louder than the Misfits. When we come to play, our opponents have to pipe in cheering.”
The unique contribution that Michigan Tech spirit groups bring to the University is further affirmed in 1970 alumnus Bill Sproule’s book, “100 Years of Michigan Tech Hockey.” “They have chapter 14 all to themselves,” says Sanregret.
The Busiest Husky on MTU's Campus
The mascot’s home office — what Sanregret refers to as “Blizzard Central” — is Michigan Tech Athletics. It takes three people to manage the popular pup’s calendar. “Blizzard is famous, but so mysterious,” says Sanregret. “We never know who you are until you graduate.” Past Blizzards at Saturday’s party raised a paw for a round of applause. Pep band members of yore raised a cheer. The crowd had more applause for the Misfits and Tim Braun ’04, who founded the legendary student cheering section you’ll find in Section L at all home games.
As the photo session with the couples wrapped up, Hockey Huskies of yore glided onto the ice for the alumni game marking a century of Michigan Tech Hockey. Kathy Wassberg watched from the bleachers with a smile, pointing to goalie Darcy Way warming up near his net. No one from Kathy’s time was on the ice, but familiar names and faces transcend class years. Once a Husky, always a Husky.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.