from the Archives
Alumni share the story of RIT’s
In 1963-1964, a Bengal tiger prowled the halls of RIT.
In his short life, that cat had a profound influence on the institute
and on the students who cared for him.
Four decades later, five members of the original tiger committee
got together to tell the story. David Page ’66 (photo science),
Jim Black ’64 (chemistry), Denis Kitchen ’65 (printing),
Roger Kramer ’65 (photo science), and Francis “Skip” Millor ’65
(photo science) gathered in the Archives and Special Collections
area of Wallace Library for a video-taped interview.
The tale begins in the RITskeller on RIT’s old downtown Rochester
campus. Someone – no one remembers who – suggested
that RIT should have a real tiger.
“The idea just emerged from the grease of the hamburgers
of the RITskeller,” says Kramer. “We really thought
we needed a tiger, and we saw no reason why we shouldn’t
The students took their idea to A. Stephen Walls, director of
student activities. Instead of laughing them out of his office,
Walls contacted Louis DiSabato, director of Rochester’s
Seneca Park Zoo. The zoo official said only licensed facilities
could buy a tiger. Undeterred, the students asked DiSabato if
the zoo would arrange for the purchase and house the tiger, providing
the students raised the money.
He agreed. The wild idea was becoming reality.
“The cost was going to be $1,000,” says Kitchen. “That
was back in the time when $1,000 was a lot of money. So we
came up with the idea of raising money by selling stock. We sold shares
for $1 apiece, and we sold enough to raise $1,000.”
Hold that tiger
The tiger’s arrival on Oct. 30, 1963, was a major event.
About 50 students, including RIT officials and the cheerleading
squad, formed a motorcade to travel to the airport for the first
view of the 8-week-old cub born at the Dallas Zoo.
“The cage was covered in burlap,” says Kramer, “and
all we heard was this sort of deep, well, it was a purr, but you
knew there was a very large cat there.
“They opened up one edge and this paw came out that was
about the size of my head,” Kramer continues. “And
Lou DiSabato said, ‘Oh, he’s going to be a big one.’ But
then what followed was this little tiger.”
|A. Stephen Walls, former director of student
The RIT tiger lived at the zoo, but student handlers were
allowed to visit the cub when the zoo was closed, and to
take the cat to campus and community events. Most of the
handlers were members of Alpha Phi Omega, a national service
King of the campus
“The students really jumped on the idea that we had our own
frosh-eating tiger,” says Page. “Just as
today, there was a lot of talk about apathy on campus.
Denis wrote a letter to the editor about how the cat
had been the best thing to end student apathy.”
“RIT was a unique experience, to come to an urban campus,” says
Kitchen. “It was so intimate. There were only 2,500
people in the day school, and there were 6,500 in the
“We were fighting apathy at the time,” Kitchen continues. “I
think the tiger was the king of the whole fight against
“At that point,” adds Black, “that’s
when they made the announcement of the new campus. So a lot
of stuff was happening, and the tiger was one part of it, and it brought
a lot of it together, I think.”
|The name Spirit - for Student Pride in RIT
- was chosed through a 'name the tiger' contest.
Spirit, as the tiger was called, was popular with local
media as well as with students. One TV appearance was especially
“We’d given him a sneaker to play with,” says
Black. “And he’s on this kids’ show,
and this guy has sneakers on. And there are kids in
the audience. The tiger decides that he wants to eat
the sneakers. He’s biting this
guy’s foot on television. They finally took a
break so we could get the tiger off this guy’s
Despite this and other stories of typical feline behavior,
all agree that Spirit was a very gentle animal. “He loved people,” says
Page. “I don’t think he ever hurt anyone
on purpose. As handlers, the main thing we had to
do was protect the cat from over-zealous people.”
Eventually, however, there came a day when Spirit
was barred from campus.
“The ultimate thing was,” says Kramer, “a couple
of reps from the school’s insurance company showed up, and
they wanted to see this tiger. And I’m sure that the guys
we were talking to were lawyers, because the cat immediately tore
up one guy’s pant leg – not the guy, just his pants.
“And that guy turned around and said ‘One day, tiger’s
gone or you don’t have any insurance.’ And
that was the last time he was on campus.”
The day the magic died
From the day of his arrival to the day he was banned,
about four months had passed. After that, the students
continued to visit Spirit at the zoo, walking and playing
with him until he was well over 100 pounds. But even
those visits soon came to an end.
Early on, the tiger had been given calcium to correct a deficiency.
When his bones hardened, a much more serious problem
developed: A pelvic constriction that prevented the elimination of
It was an incurable genetic defect.
The zoo called to tell the students that the end was near.
Page still chokes up when he remembers that day: Sept. 28,
“To crawl out into that cage with him, and play with him,
and know that when we left they were going to
put him down – it
was profoundly sad.”
The tiger committee members graduated. RIT moved
to a new campus and began the evolution into a much
larger, more complex university. None of the five
alumni believe that it would be possible – or
advisable – to bring a live tiger mascot
to RIT today.
“I got thinking about this,” says Page. “You
know there’s a song about Puff, the Magic
Dragon? We were all going to go away. Everyone.
And he would have been left alone. So, getting
philosophic, it’s sort of like our Marilyn
Monroe. He died young, good-looking kid.”
And the memories of Spirit, the magic tiger,
To learn mmore about RIT's tiger, visit the Web at wally.rit.edu/depts/archives/Tigerpage.htm.
|Members of the original tiger committee met for a video-recorded
interview in the Archives and Special Collections area of Wallace
Library. From left are Francis “Skip” Millor, Roger
Kramer, David Page, Denis Kitchen and James Black. Photo by
Ken Huth ’88.
|40 years later, they’re
still grrr-eat tiger fans
James Black ’64 (chemistry) studied personnel administration
in graduate school at Syracuse University. He served as director
of the men’s housing at RIT, worked at Rochester Business
Institute, and then joined the personnel department at McCurdy’s
department stores, where he worked for 10 years. For the past
23 years, he has worked for Monroe County as a supervising
examiner for public assistance and Medicaid. He has been a
board member and volunteer case manager for AIDS Rochester
and was president of Helping People with AIDS.
Denis Kitchen ’65 (printing) received a master’s
degree in student personnel administration at Indiana University
before becoming a Navy pilot. He received his law degree
from the University of Buffalo and has been a lawyer for
David Page ’66 (photo science) joined Polaroid Corp.
as supervisor of quality control for Polaroid Copy Service
Division, then designed recognizance systems during the Vietnam
War. He joined the radiology department at Duke University,
eventually becoming fine arts photographer. He retired about
five years ago after 30 years with the university. He lives
in North Carolina.
Roger Kramer ’65 (photo science) worked in New York
City desigining photographic laboratory equipment for Calumet
for a year, then enlisted in the Air Force and was involved
in combat documentation and in aerial intelligence. He retired
as a colonel, then went back to the University of Texas San
Antonio and earned a master’s in history, and a B.A.
in history teaching and coaching. He worked as a science
teacher, school principal and district administrator before
retiring. He now teaches at a private school in Texas.
Francis “Skip” Millor ’65 (photo
science) received a master’s in education from Syracuse
University and taught for several years before joining
the Army. After leaving the military, he went to work for
Kodak in the motion picture division in sales and marketing.
He retired after 30 years and started his own business
providing management coaching, sales training and other
services to small businesses.
RIT’s teams have been called the Techmen and the Blue-Gray.
A dog named Brownie was mascot in the post-World War I era.
The undefeated 1955 basketball team inspired a moniker that depicted
the team’s ferocious spirit. Henry Watts, head of the RIT
News Bureau, began sending out news releases using “Tigers” as
The name stuck, and the tiger has represented RIT for half a
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