Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2007 | People

Character Study: Dick Spencer

By Carol Harker
cartoon

No doubt about it, Dick Spencer, 43BA—the guy who created Iowa’s wonderfully impish Herky—was a character.

Maybe because he spent his first years living in a renovated chicken coop in Texas, he thought of a bird when the UI athletic department made a plea for a mascot to represent the black and gold spirit of the Hawkeyes. Whatever inspired him, in June 1948, Spencer sketched a hawk that looked remarkably like a cross between a bald eagle and Woody the Woodpecker. A month later, the bird was christened Herky, short for Hercules, and the university at last had a mascot with staying power.

I never met Dick Spencer, but I’ve written about him a few times and giggled over his antics even more often. By all accounts, he was a rare bird, blessed with more moxie—and luck—than most.

After those first ten years in Texas, Spencer moved to live with his grandparents in Des Moines, where he amazed his friends by rustling rattlesnakes to transform into belts. Spencer’s entrepreneurial tendencies revealed themselves early.

Later, while a student at the UI, the incorrigible Spencer haunted local graveyards, stealing cemetery flowers to repurpose into corsages. Every coed knew that the best beaus were those who provided their dates flowers for the dance. Spencer made it possible at a discount.

Dick Spencer Dick Spencer's Homecoming Herky appeared in the October 1948 alumni magazine.

In this issue, we bring a cartoon Herky back to our pages. For years after he left Iowa for Colorado and a career as editor and later publisher of Western Horseman magazine, Spencer drew Herky in all manner of guises for his friend Loren Hickerson, 40BA, longtime alumni director and editor of this magazine. He had Herky donning sunglasses and shorts when the Hawkeyes traveled to Pasadena for Rose Bowl games in the 1950s, in top hat and tux for some swank Homecoming celebrations, broken and bandaged when the Hawks lost a tight game.

Dick Spencer died in 1989, but the bird he hatched at the point of his pencil in 1948 lives on. Help us express his character by submitting your stab at a caption for our first Herky cartoon.

In future issues, you might see Herky celebrating graduation in cap and gown, saluting the flag, or all decked out for Halloween.

And, if you have memories of Spencer or the Iowa mascot he created, please share them with me. I’d love to learn more about the irrepressible cartoonist who gave us Herky.