Harold “Hal” Sandy died December 9, 2017. Sandy created the “Happy Jayhawk” design while a student at the University of Kansas.
Sandy’s Jayhawk was in response to the end of World War II. The 1941 Jayhawk previously used by the university was depicted as aggressive in nature by Sandy’s friend Yogi Williams. Discussions with Williams and the head of KU public relations about the change in the country’s post-war attitude led to Sandy creating the “Happy Jayhawk.”
Shortly thereafter, he sold the design and an inventory of decals to the KU Bookstore for $250. The licensing royalty income for the University now exceeds $2 million per year.
The Jayhawk is the only cartoon that Sandy, a 1947 KU graduate and retired marketing consultant, ever drew.
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.
Six decades ago when University of Kansas advertising student Hal Sandy drew the famous happy Jayhawk mascot still in use today, he wanted to place the official “KU” lettering on its chest. But there was no official KU lettering then. That changed during the summer of 2005.
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.
As 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.
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.
A collection of articles and a video about Hal Sandy and his “Happy Jayhawk” is available here.
Recent graduates Laila Tawfik, c’14; Alicia Genilo, c’15; Amber Thulin, c’15; Sarah Kenning, c’14; and Jenny Rider, d’15, proudly wore their crimson and blue and displayed a KU flag during school spirit orientation day at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis.
Tawfik explains that the five friends, who knew of one another through the pre-optometry club at KU, have become closer since arriving in Memphis. Together they make KU one of the two most-represented universities in their class of 136 students.
“We met up before classes started, and we’ve all become really close since then,” she says of her fellow Jayhawks. “It’s really nice to have that connection with the other girls.”
The following was shared with alumni members as an April Fool’s Day joke on April 1, 2015. Our playful prank, which included a “new” logo added to the website, fooled more than a few alumni, but by sundown everything was back to normal, and everyone was let in on the joke. We’ve kept the post for posterity, but don’t be fooled again! What follows is pure folly and is not to be believed. Proceed at your own risk:
At the end of 2014, we asked alumni to vote for their favorite Jayhawk, and hundreds of you responded. In January we shared the results of the survey, and the winner, with a whopping 27% of the vote, was the 1941 “Fighting” Jayhawk.
KU alumni spoke, and we listened.
So starting today, a new era begins for the KU Alumni Association, with an old twist. Today we are proud to announce our new logo and brand identity that pays tribute to KU’s history and tradition, while echoing the voice of KU alumni.
The Fighting Jayhawk Returns
Our new logo proudly features the Fighting Jayhawk, originally designed by student Eugene “Yogi” Williams in 1941. Williams, who worked as a cartoonist for the University Daily Kansan, created the Fighting Jayhawk with a more aggressive demeanor, reflecting the mood of campus and the country in the midst of World War II.
Though the Fighting Jayhawk was replaced as KU’s official symbol by a happier version in 1946, Yogi Williams’ version never went away entirely, attesting to its popularity. As of today, it’s been called back into action.
We expect the rest of the university to follow the Alumni Association’s lead, adopting the Fighting Jayhawk everywhere from KU business cards to the center of James Naismith Court, including the mascots. While Big Jay is already imposing enough to intimidate opponents, a new “Fighting Baby Jay” will strike fear into the hearts of children who dare support KU opponents.
Don’t be fooled by today’s announcement, as logos are often here today and gone tomorrow. We appreciate all of the proud members of the KU Alumni Association who voted for their favorite Jayhawk, giving an old bird a fighting chance.
A KU icon passed away this week, though many alumni might have missed it. If they’re not familiar with his name, they definitely know his work.
Professor Emeritus Elden Tefft, f’49, g’50, left his mark on campus by creating one of the most beloved (and photographed) sculptures on Jayhawk Boulevard: “Academic Jay” in front of Strong Hall.
His other works are equally notable, including the bronze “Moses” kneeling before the stained-glass depiction of the burning bush at Smith Hall, as featured in the university’s official seal. But the Strong Hall Jayhawk is much more meaningful to me, for very personal reasons.
For starters, Tefft’s Jayhawk was a gift of the Class of 1956. My father, Don Johnston, b’56, l’66, was a member of that class and took great pride in it. When his classmates celebrated their their 50th reunion, small paperweight versions were commissioned as commemorative gifts for attendees (pictured).
The ’56 Jayhawk, as I came to know it, has always been the symbolic (if not the geographic) center of KU. That was definitely the case in 1988, when KU’s improbable run to the NCAA Championship featured impromptu celebrations that flooded Wescoe Beach, with the ’56 Jay surveying the scene. I remember racing to campus after KU knocked off Duke to advance to the title game, where I climbed the base of the ’56 Jay, taking in the celebration from the Jayhawk’s lofty granite perch.
I returned to the base of statue ten years later, surprising my KU sweetheart as she took a seat, and I got down on one knee. We were engaged under the watchful eye of the ’56 Jayhawk, like so many others who have celebrated significant milestones with Tefft’s iconic creation.
Perhaps it is fitting that as we celebrate the life and contributions of Elden Tefft this month, the KU Alumni Association’s 2015 calendar features his ’56 Jayhawk for February. Photographed by Chris Lazzarino, it watches over campus with a timeless look and its signature half-smile, focusing its gaze toward the horizon, towering toward the blue.
See a collection of photos from Elden Tefft’s work on iconic KU landmarks on the University of Kansas’ Flickr page. Do you have a memory or special photo with Elden Tefft’s iconic KU landmark? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.