My meeting with Hal Sandy

Posted on Dec 12, 2017 in Alumni News and News

Sandy Jayhawk sticker

Harold “Hal” Sandy, j’47, who created the famous Happy Jayhawk logo as a KU student in 1946, died Dec. 9, 2017. Sandy is fondly remembered by alumni and Jayhawk fans, and his creation remains one of the most recognized and beloved collegiate symbols in the country. David Johnston, KU Alumni Association vice president for marketing and digital media, met with Sandy while leading the KU visual identity project in 2005 as KU director of marketing. He reflects on meeting Sandy for the first time in this personal tribute to a KU icon. More coverage of Sandy is available here.

A date with history

On Aug. 9, 2005, I was a bundle of nerves as I walked up the stairs to the Provost’s office. This was an important meeting, but I’d had several of those as KU’s brand new director of marketing while helping to guide the creation of a new Visual Identity for the university. I had made the case for a new KU logo to the Chancellor, campus leaders and colleagues, and alumni. But this was different. Today, I was meeting Hal Sandy, creator of the smiling Jayhawk, and I was more than a little intimidated. I was also star-struck.

Hal Sandy, creator of the Jayhawk logoAs a KU student in 1946, Sandy was asked to design a new post-war Jayhawk with a decidedly happier disposition. The request came from Ed Browne, c’38, g’57, KU’s director of public relations, who wanted a simple window decal for his car. According to my conversation with Sandy that day, he had agreed to design the new Jayhawk on the condition that he be able to sell the decals to help pay his tuition. After graduating, he sold his copyright to the Kansas Union Bookstore for $250. Sandy’s popular creation would eventually replace Yogi Williams’ angry “Fighting Jayhawk” as the University’s official emblem, and KU would continue to use the “Happy” or “Smiling” Jayhawk for the next 60 years.

My meeting would change that.

Talking Trajan

My task that afternoon was to seek Sandy’s permission to change his beloved bird by adding the new “Trajan” KU logo that had just been approved. Chancellor Robert Hemenway was adamant that the new logo be featured on the Jayhawk in the spirit of “One University,” so my boss, Executive Vice Chancellor Paul Carttar, suggested I obtain Sandy’s support. Provost Shulenburger agreed and arranged the meeting. This put me in an awkward position.

You see, I had grown up a fan of KU and considered the Jayhawk sacred. Hal Sandy was a legend to me. Moreover, our visual identity committee had pledged not to alter the Jayhawk in our effort to standardize KU’s colors and trademarks. I was not convinced that we even needed to touch Sandy’s Jayhawk, and yet here it was my job to make the case with the bird’s creator for adding the new KU. I risked offending a man I had idolized.

After Dr. Shulenburger introduced me, he nodded for me to take over the meeting. (Gulp.)

The Smiling Jayhawk

I was immediately disarmed by his warmth upon meeting him. Hal Sandy was a kind, generous soul, always smiling, and we soon bonded as we talked shop. Sandy had considered himself a marketing man as much or more than an artist. He understood branding, visual identity and the need for consistency. Quickly, we found common ground, and to my surprise, I found a friend and ally.

I made my pitch, and was shocked to learn that Sandy had followed our visual identity project with interest. He supported what we were doing, and when it was suggested that we might add the new KU logo to his Jayhawk, I’ll never forget his response.

Smiling, he replied, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Then he launched into the story of how he designed the Jayhawk. He thought it should, like the Fighting Jayhawk, bear KU’s trademark initials. But in the absence of an established, official KU logo, Sandy intentionally chose large, generic letters that could be used, as he put it, until such time as KU could formally designate a logo. I couldn’t believe my ears.

The rest of our meeting was just as surreal. The visual identity committee hoped to standardize the Jayhawk after years of minor variations, interpretations and manipulations brought on by the desktop publishing revolution. To find the one true version, we went straight to the source. Although Sandy no longer had the original drawing he made for the decal, he did have one of the original decals, which we used to painstakingly recreate his Jayhawk, line for line. One of the proudest moments of my life came a few days later, sitting in a dark room at a computer, when we carefully placed the new KU logo on the Jayhawk, with his final blessing.

More than a logo

My meeting with Sandy had more surprises in store. Once we’d taken care of the business at hand, I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask the KU icon countless questions about the Jayhawk. Questions that had dogged KU fans for decades could finally be answered by the man himself.

“Is the Jayhawk supposed to face right or left, and why?” I wondered.

Alas, Sandy confirmed there is no official story about why the Jayhawk faces one way or the other, but he did admit to designing the bird facing left on the decal. Others would “flip” his design to face right, and he enjoyed the stories that would emerge about the Jayhawk turning its back on the state of Missouri, or facing Missouri with its boot outstretched to give it a swift kick.

Another favorite story Sandy shared, perpetuated no doubt by Nebraska fans, was that the feather detail distinguishing the Jayhawk’s wing from his foot was made in the shape on an “N.” A nice story, but one that doesn’t quite line up with his original left-facing decal, in which the N would be backward.

Sandy was, above all, proud to be associated with his beloved creation, just as I was proud to help to preserve it, protect it and give it new life. When the question arose about how to properly acknowledge the evolution of the symbolic bird, we decided to create a special historic designation for his original 1946 design, dubbed the “Sandy Jayhawk.” The Jayhawk that emerged from our meeting, combining his design with our Trajan KU, would be known as the “current” Jayhawk. That’s the way he wanted it.

Hal Sandy’s legacy is more than a logo. It is a shared love for the University of Kansas, and a symbol that unites us as Jayhawks.

I’ll never forget my meeting with the man who still puts a smile on every Jayhawk’s face.

–David Johnston
A collection of articles and a video about Hal Sandy and his “Happy Jayhawk” is available here.

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