TO OHIO NORTHERN UNIVERSITY ALUMNI, UNIVERSITY MASCOT KLONDIKE EMBODIES SCHOOL SPIRIT, TRADITION AND A BIT OF MYSTERY. TO THE BERRY FAMILY, HE MEANS ALL OF THESE THINGS – PLUS SO MUCH MORE.
Siblings Joanne Berry, BS ’14, Nicole Berry, BS ’16, and Adam Berry, BSME ’18, have followed in each other’s footsteps their entire lives. Each born two years apart, they’ve made a name for the Berry family wherever they go and have upheld its positive reputation well. During their time at Ohio Northern University, they’ve also shared another very special identity. And that name is Klondike.
No one on campus has more star power than ONU’s mascot, and posing as the face of Ohio Northern has become a rite of passage for the Berry family. Although each of them chose to pursue different paths after graduation – Joanne conducts clinical optical research in Boston, Nicole recently earned her master’s in biology, and Adam works as a mechanical engineer – their time spent in the suit is a common thread that bonds them in a unique way and continues to keep them connected to this day. They enjoy reliving their memories when they’re together, and no Berry family get-together is complete without the telling of “Klondike stories.”
But it wasn’t always that way. Being Klondike is such a closely guarded secret that not even the portrayer’s closest friends can know the truth. There are no tryouts; only those noticed by current Klondikes are recruited for the job. Students are only allowed to reveal themselves upon graduating. There are, however, a few exceptions.
When Joanne, the oldest Berry sibling, first became Klondike, nobody else in the family knew except for their parents, Bryan and Susan. That’s not to say there weren’t any “hints,” though. Second-oldest Nicole remembers many an occasion when her sister’s whereabouts were shrouded in mystery.
“I took pictures with Klondike once, and for a second, I thought she might be in the suit. I didn’t know she was Klondike at the time,” Nicole says. “I thought about it again afterwards when I saw her leaving, and I was like, ‘You’re Klondike!’ and she was like, ‘No, I’m just the helper at the Alumni House. It’s for a friend.’ It wasn’t a total lie, but it wasn’t really
true either because she was definitely in the suit.”
Nicole was also astounded by how many parking tickets Joanne seemed to get out of. “What kind of magic powers does she have?” she would wonder. Something was definitely not adding up.
Then, Nicole received an ominous mystery email requesting a meeting in a random classroom. She had no idea that she was about to enter into the family’s “secret circle.” It was during this meeting that Joanne finally revealed her secret identity, and suddenly, all of those suspicious incidents started to make more sense to Nicole.
Their younger brother Adam was in the dark the whole time, making him the only person in the family who didn’t know – until his freshman year at ONU when he, too, received a mystery email. Comically, Nicole nearly blew her cover.
“She sent the email but accidentally emailed me from her personal account, and I was like, ‘Wait a second…’” Adam says.
Of course, when he was finally extended the invitation to be Klondike, it was a no-brainer decision. His sisters were thrilled.
All three siblings’ experiences as Klondike have been similar, but different. Each Klondike adds his or her own spin to the mascot and decides where and when he appears. But there are several “Klondike struggles” that are universal, like how to safely handle babies, something Adam was faced with his very first time in the suit, or the number of high-fives that go unanswered by Klondike because there is no peripheral vision inside the suit. The stories go on and on, and they’ve become a part of the family’s overall culture.
“It helps that we are fortunately very charismatic people, so it’s easier because that’s a quality you look for in Klondike,” Joanne says. “That they’re not afraid to go out of their comfort zone, that they are friendly and genuine. Klondike needs to be embodied and involved.”
Masquerading as the face of the University is definitely fun and unique, but it’s also an act of service unlike anything else. Mom Susan puts it best: “I think Klondike is just a cool concept because when they’re playing sports, they’re out there. Their faces are out there, their achievements are out there,” she says about her children. “But when you’re Klondike, you give up all identity to get the rah-rah and the cheering going – to help the school.”
Watching from an omniscient perspective, dad Bryan has experienced both great amusement and great pride as the father of three Klondikes. He watched with a chuckle as he saw a nervous Adam, who had no idea yet about his siblings’ moonlighting gig, loosen up during his freshman orientation as soon as his sister – er, Klondike – walked in. He watched from the bleachers during football games as his children brought school spirit through the roof, giving the team the boost in morale it needed. “That’s my kid representing the school,” he would think to himself.
WE CHALLENGE THE KIDS TO ALWAYS LEAVE A POSITIVE MARK, WHEREVER THEY GO," HE SAYS. "WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, WHAT IS MORE POSITIVE AT THIS SCHOOL THAN KLONDIKE? AND THAT'S WHAT THEY'VE DONE IN THE YEARS THAT THEY'VE BEEN HERE. THEY'VE LEFT A NAMELESS POSITIVE MARK."
In retrospect, the siblings have not taken this charge lightly.
“Every school that we’ve gone to, we have literally left our name in the school, like on a plaque somewhere,” Nicole says. “I think ONU is the first school that we have not left our name somewhere, and I think that Klondike is really our culmination, our signature. It’s funny because it’s a nameless society. We relinquish our identities to take on Klondike’s and fill that character, and so I think, in a way, that is still keeping our tradition of leaving our mark, by not leaving it.”