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News & Events
College of Veterinary Medicine Mule Team
Gets Boost From Long-Time Supporter

Virginia EtheridgeVirginia Etheridge was no stranger to helping the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine Mule Team.

In the early 1980s, the just-retired veterinary college dean Dr. Roberts Kahrs and his wife Evelyn, were ready to leave Columbia, Mo. and return to Maryland. One problem: Mrs. Kahrs had made it a tradition to feed treats to the college’s mule mascots.

Before the departure, Mrs. Kahrs asked Mrs. Etheridge to carry on the practice. She did, and continued to bring the mules fresh carrots and apples most Sunday afternoons for more than two decades after the original request.

Even after her death in 2005, Mrs. Etheridge is helping the mules. Recently, the college received a $420,862 gift from her estate to supplement an existing Kahrs Family endowment for the mule team and their public relations efforts.

The money will be handled as an endowment with interest used for the team’s travel expenses, care and feeding, passenger wagon maintenance, and support for a truck and trailer. Funds will also support veterinary students who care for the mules and take them to events across Missouri to provide rides and a glimpse back in time when these animals were the backbone of Missouri’s economy.

"Mrs. Etheridge's gift insures the legacy of Bob and Evelyn Kahrs and their passion for the mule team and our students as ambassadors of the college,” said Dr. Cecil Moore, College of Veterinary Medicine interim dean.”

The mascot mules have represented the college, MU, and Missouri to thousands of people since 1982. Pulling a dozen-passenger wagon, they’ve paraded in MU homecomings, governor inaugurations, Missouri State Fair opening ceremonies, and the St. Louis Charity Horse Show and Kansas City American Royal Parade. They’ve also provided yeoman duty at small town parades, picnics, weddings, and other events. They were spotlighted by television personality Willard Scott on NBC’s Today Show. Tens of thousands of Missouri kids have either ridden in the mules’ wagon or petted a fuzzy mule nose. Often, the MU mules were the first farm animals that many city kids have ever seen in person.

The mules couldn’t have come at a better time. Soon after they arrived, the college saw a dramatic reduction of important funding streams that threatened the organization’s existence. A devastating review by the American Veterinary Medical Association said that if the college didn’t enhance its teaching facilities, the college would be demoted to limited accreditation or worse.

Dr. Kahrs made the team a centerpiece of a statewide public relations campaign for new financial support. The arrival of the mules guaranteed a crowd and Dr. Kahrs made the most of the opportunity to speak about the college’s plight. Missourians responded and enough money was garnered to build the new teaching hospital, Clydesdale Hall. Appropriately, the mule team pulled a plow for the official groundbreaking.

The original pair of mules, Hillda and Louise, a matched pair of sorrel draft mules, hung up their horseshoes in 1995 and retired. They were replaced by Jill and Shirley in the hitch. Mrs. Etheridge and Hill’s Pet Nutrition helped purchase the original team. Mrs. Etheridge and Bayer Pharmaceutical bought the second, along with their fancy black leather and chrome bridles, and a new passenger wagon.

Mrs. Etheridge was no stranger to the college. She worked for the Department of Veterinary Medicine in 1939-45 and lived next door to Dr. John Connaway, considered the college’s founding faculty member in the early Twentieth Century. She moved to Columbia as a two-year-old with her parents in 1920. She graduated from Hickman High School, class of 1936, and later finished studies at the Rosenthal School of Commerce in Columbia. She married Edward Bruce Etheridge in 1953. She served as secretary to two presidents of Shelter Insurance.

The mascot mules are tended by the college’s Mule Club, about 20 or so veterinary medical students who care for and exhibit the mules. Veterinary medical students are no strangers to hard work, but care, maintenance, cleaning, and grooming of mules, wagon, and related tack are hard and sometimes dirty, thankless tasks. For many events in the outlying parts of the state, students arrive at the college’s mule barn before dawn to feed and prepare the mules, load them into a trailer, drive hours to an event, dress in cowboy hats and smiles, and meet the public with enthusiasm and patience.

When Jill and Shirley retired, the college searched for the third generation of MU mule ambassadors to carry on the tradition. Not any mule qualified. The ideal candidates needed to be a strong and matched set to better pull the wagon as a team. Above all, they had to be gentle and patient among the public, and ignore the distractions of zooming cars while they clomp down the street.

It was a Missouri Ozarks pair, named Tim and Terry, owned Max Eagleberger in Elkland, Mo. that looked most promising to the college mule search committee. MU purchased them courtesy of a donation by Sydenstricker Implement Co., a farm-vehicle dealership with stores across the state.

In 2007, the team is scheduled to make about 50 appearances across the state, occasionally enjoying apple and carrot treats that Mrs. Etheridge once made it a point to give them.

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Last Update: February 29, 2012