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Students participate in tradition of painting the 'A'

August 29, 2011
By Coleman Cornelius

Terrance Harris, a freshman studying animal science, paused on the rugged hillside above Hughes Stadium on Saturday, with sweat trickling down his temples. He gripped the gun of a paint sprayer as he surveyed the steep terrain, marked by boulders, shrubs, cactus, yucca and squat pines.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Harris, a 17-year-old from South Carolina, said with a grin. “It’s a good tradition, and I just wanted to be part of it.”

Tony Velasquez, foreground, takes his turn with the paint sprayer Saturday with help from friend Keith McCaskell.Nearly 200 students volunteered 

Harris was among nearly 200 students who volunteered for the annual repainting of Colorado State University’s iconic “A” on the foothills west of Fort Collins. They wielded 200 gallons of white paint to get the job done.

The emblem – 450 feet tall and 210 feet wide – is a testament to the university’s history: CSU formerly was known as Colorado A&M, and the school’s Aggie “A” has been a northern Colorado landmark since its construction in 1923.

But as Harris and other volunteers learned, the “A” that’s well-delineated from miles away is a confusion of scrub and whitewashed rock close-up. 

“I’m going to respect the ‘A’ a lot more now. It’s a giant, hard-to-paint ‘A,’” said Kaylin Caperton, a freshman who took her turn with the paint sprayer to coat brambly branches of mountain mahogany.

CSU’s icon is one of the largest emblems of its kind in the nation 

Marshall Frasier, a professor of agricultural and resource economics who oversaw painting operations, used 1,600 feet of red tape to demarcate the “A” before painting began. Not surprising, given that CSU’s icon is one of the largest emblems of its kind in the nation.

“It’s strange because you get up here and it’s like, ‘Wow, where’s the A?’” said Frasier, who, along with many students, was spattered with paint.

Despite the scrambling and sweating, painters were effusive as they finished their two-hour shifts.

'The ‘A’ is a great symbol for our university'

Megan Riveros, a junior studying animal science, said she volunteered to paint the "A" as a way to get involved at CSU.“I think it’s awesome,” said Keith McCaskell, a sophomore pursuing environmental horticulture in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “It was such a good experience. The ‘A’ is a great symbol for our college and university, and when I see it from far away, it’s cool to know I was part of it.”

 Agreed his buddy, Tony Velasquez, “It’s nice to be part of the tradition.”

Several students said refreshing the ‘A’ was a memorable way to join the university community at semester’s start.

“I loved it!” enthused Bailey Field, a freshman from Oregon, as she hiked to the bus that would return her to campus. “This is really about CSU’s roots, which are in agriculture, and it’s fun to be part of that.”

Joining many volunteers from the College of Agricultural Sciences were freshmen on the CSU football team, who hauled paint and equipment up the hillside on Friday evening; members of the CSU Club Baseball Team; students representing local chapters of Alpha Gamma Rho, FarmHouse and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternities; members of the Student Alumni Connection; and incoming CSU freshmen who responded to a general call for volunteers.

Dedicated alumnus Bill Woods

The point man behind the painting mission is dedicated alumnus Bill Woods, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was in the university’s ROTC program in the late 1950s. When he returned to live in Fort Collins many years later, Woods volunteered to organize the ‘A’ painting to revive the neglected symbol and to keep a memorable tradition alive.

Woods himself painted the ‘A’ some 50 years ago – but he and fellow students at the time used brushes, rags and mops to slosh the symbol in white. On Saturday, students employed six paint sprayers powered by three large air compressors.

“It’s important now to have our traditions continue,” Woods said. “Painting the ‘A’ is part of the history of the university, and it leaves a legacy for others.”

Contact: Coleman Cornelius
Phone: (970) 491-2392