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Paul Chu: Physics Pioneer, Marketing Icon

Guest Posts, University Archives

Alexander Rodriguez, undergraduate student from the University of Chicago, takes a look at Professor Paul Chu’s presence in university marketing initiatives.

Paul Chu sitting at a lab desk.

Paul Chu sitting at a lab desk (UH Photographs Collection, University of Houston Special Collections)

University of Houston (UH) Professor Paul Chu is a known name both on- and off-campus. In 1987, Chu and his team made breakthroughs in the field of superconductivity, developing materials that could conduct electricity with zero resistance at temperatures reachable with liquid nitrogen. This discovery kicked off a wave of excitement in the scientific community and put the university’s Department of Physics at the leading edge of this research.

In the late 1990s, UH’s Division of Marketing and Communications commissioned the production of 30-second television commercials for prospective students, starring university faculty with their work. One of these focuses on Chu, with shots of him with lab equipment demonstrating the materials developed in his lab. With floating magnets and nitrogen plumes aplenty, the clip is an effective counterargument to any high schooler who says physics can’t be cool.

Still from UH commercial featuring Professor Chu.

Still from UH commercial featuring Professor Chu (UH Marketing and Communications Records, University of Houston Special Collections)

Elsewhere, Chu and his research team garner mention from voices outside the university. In a compilation of news clips from November 2001, several television and radio stations reported on Dr. Chu’s move to Hong Kong to lead a research department there. True to the era, the reporters excitedly mention that he will continue to lead his UH research department through a technology known as “e-mail.” The similarity of the reporting across different channels indicates the use of a standardized press release, likely crafted by UH Marketing and Communications, to package the facts for news stations to add directly into their report.

These items, part of a Special Collections acquisition of UH Marketing and Communications Records this year, demonstrate the way the university showcases its faculty and their research as an asset for its image. The message for the public is that the work done here is not only research worth continuing but also the knowledge that has an impact on the lives of people outside academia and merits sharing. These outreach efforts establish the University of Houston as an institution on the forefront of science, attracting the next generation of bright minds to enroll and be a part of the spirit of innovation at the university.

Check out the full Marketing and Communications collection in the archival catalog here. More information about Chu and his research can be found elsewhere in Special Collections, including newspaper clippings in the Faculty Vita Records.

Shasta: She’s Beauty and She’s Grace… She’s Miss U of H

Guest Posts, University Archives

Jenna Guinn, practicum student from the University of North Texas, shares research and resources related to history of Shasta, the cougar mascot for the University of Houston.

If you attend a UH football game, you will most definitely see the university’s costumed mascot, Shasta the Cougar, doing push ups on the sidelines with each new point scored. However, it wasn’t too long ago that spectators would see a live cougar prowling the sidelines accompanied by her Cougar Guard. Between 1947 and 1989, five live female cougars held the position of the University of Houston’s mascot.

The choice of a cougar as the university’s mascot can be attributed to John R. Bender, who arrived at the university in 1927 as a volunteer football coach. Bender, the former head coach for the Washington State Cougars, held the animal in high regard and suggested naming the university’s new football team after the animal. The student newspaper and student organizations quickly adopted the name. In 1946, the cougar was named the official mascot of the University of Houston.

The Cougar Guard poses with Shasta I for a yearbook photo. (Houstonian)

In 1947,  the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity purchased a cougar from a wildlife preserve under the condition that students at the university could crowdfund for the cougar’s cage and habitat. Articles about the crowdfunding efforts and excitement for the cougar’s arrival abound in the university’s newspaper, The Cougar, from the time period. The students were able to raise enough money, and sure enough, the cougar arrived by plane on October 17, 1947 just in time to attend her first football game the next day. A contest to choose a name for the new mascot was underway shortly after her arrival. Among 225 entries, student Joe Randol won the contest with the following submission: “Shasta (She has to). Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best.” Alpha Phi Omega created the Cougar Guard, a select group of members that were responsible for Shasta’s care.

Shasta Ⅰ was not only the university’s first mascot. Serving from 1947-1962 she also held the post for the longest of all the cougars. Shasta Ⅰ lived at the Hermann Park Zoo and attended sporting events chaperoned by the Cougar Guard. In 1953, she was involved in an accident and lost one of her front toes on the way to a game. Tradition says that the opposing team, the University of Texas, mocked UH by imitating the injury. The Cougars, however, adopted the gesture as a symbol of pride and now at game time, Cougar fans show their support by making the “cougar sign,” folding the ring finger of the right hand toward the palm. Shasta Ⅰ also had three cubs: Tom Jr, Shorty, and Hasta, all of whom made an appearances in the pages of the Houstonian from time to time. Shasta Ⅰ retired in 1962.

The debut of Shasta II next to a photo of her predecessor. (Houstonian)

Shasta Ⅱ was the university’s mascot from 1962-1965. She made her debut at just 5 weeks old at an October 1960 pep rally, and was in training until Shasta Ⅰ  retired, at 14 years old. She had the shortest reign due to unruly, predictably cougar-like, behavior. A November 1964 article in The Cougar stated, “Although Shasta is bad-tempered, she is appreciated by the students.  Besides, cougars are supposed to be mean. The students would like to see the meanness rub off on the UH football team.” She was the first cougar to reside on campus full time in Shasta’s Den, a small enclosure located in the southeast corner of Lynn Eusan Park. Shasta Ⅱ was retired to the Waco Zoo at 5 years old.

Shasta III, “The Lady,” rests in her on-campus enclosure. (Houstonian)

Shasta Ⅲ, a.k.a. “The Lady” served from 1965-1977, and may have been the most famous of all the university’s cougars. Along with being the university’s mascot,  “The Lady” was featured in commercial spots for American Motors. Shasta Ⅲ made her mascot debut during the November 6, 1965 homecoming game. She became an official alumnus in 1977 and retired due to worsening arthritis. Shasta was pulled around the Astrodome in her wagon one last time during the UH Homecoming Game. An anonymous donation of $7,000 was made for a second enclosure for Shasta Ⅳ, so that Shasta Ⅲ could remain in her enclosure on campus. Shasta Ⅲ was one of the most beloved cougars that ever prowled university grounds, she even graces the 1975 cover of the Houstonian.

Shasta Ⅳ, a.k.a. “Baby Shasta” was promoted to university mascot when she was just 11 weeks old in 1977. However, when “Baby” grew up, the Cougar Guard could not control her, much like her predecessor Shasta Ⅱ. “Baby Shasta” retired in 1980 at the young age of three. Shasta Ⅳ did make a lasting impression on one of the Cougar Guard members charged with her care. Justin Leiber, an author, philosopher, and graduate of the University of Houston, was so impressed by Shasta Ⅳ that he made her a recurring character in two of his science fiction novels. An article in the 1989 Houstonian details their close relationship. 

Shasta III and Shasta IV share reside together in their on-campus enclosure after an anonymous donation was made to expand the enclosure. (Houstonian)

Shasta Ⅴ made her debut on November 4, 1980. She held the position of beloved mascot for nine years when she was euthanized due to kidney failure in 1989. When Shasta Ⅴ’s reign came to an end there was much discussion over the ethics of housing a wild animal on campus and controversy amongst staff and students over the size of Shasta’s Den and her quality of life. There were even attempts to fundraise for a larger enclosure before Shasta Ⅴ’s passing. In 1989 Interim President George Magner ruled that the tradition of a live mascot would end with the death of Shasta , bringing a 42 year tradition to an end. The decision was made based on liability, funds, and animal exploitation/rights. However, the decision went against the majority opinion of the students at the time.

Shasta V appears in an article in the 1988 Houstonian debating the ethics of keeping a wild cougar on campus. (Houstonian)

Shasta VI calls the Houston Zoo his home. (Houston Zoo)

It would be 22 years before UH was blessed with another iteration of Shasta. In 2011, the Houston Zoo rescued a cougar cub whose mother had been illegally killed in Washington State. How fitting that Shasta Ⅵ would come from the very place that inspired John R. Bender back in 1927. The zoo entered into a partnership with UH Alumni Association and on March 24, 2012 Shasta Ⅵ was introduced to the public and became an ambassador for the university. Shasta Ⅵ is the first live male cougar mascot. While Shasta Ⅵ resides exclusively at the Houston Zoo, he does attend important university events…via webcam. Before the biannual ring ceremonies, class rings spend the night in the cougar habitat to be blessed by Shasta. Students can visit Shasta Ⅵ at the zoo for free with a student ID.

The University of Houston’s Specially Collections Department has many resources that highlight Shasta Ⅰ-Ⅴ, including pictures and articles in archived versions of The Cougar and Houstonian.

Dorothy Hood, José María Velasco Maidana, and Khory the Cat

Guest Posts, Performing & Visual Arts

Katy Allred, graduate student assistant from the University of North Texas Library Science program, provides us with insight into the lives of Dorothy Hood, José María Velasco Maidana, and Khory the Cat.

José María Velasco Maidana and Khory (José María Velasco Maidana Papers, University of Houston Special Collections)

Dorothy Hood and José María Velasco Maidana met in Mexico City in the 1940s and married in 1946. She was a young American painter and writer starting to make a name for herself, and he was a well-known Bolivian composer and conductor 20 years her senior. The two never had children together, but they did have an important family member early in their marriage who accompanied them on their many travels – a cat named Khory. Khory the cosmopolitan cat traveled by rail from Mexico to New York City, sat for a portrait with Velasco Maidana, and was even featured in a Houston Chronicle article by Ann Holmes, the newspaper’s fine arts editor who wrote: “The Maidanas are on their way to New York for a five-month stay, in company with their creole cat, name Khory, who travels-with no sense of disgrace at all-in a birdcage!”

Hood and Velasco Maidana traveled together often, but sometimes their work obligations took them in different directions. Velasco Maidana wrote several letters to Dorothy during these times apart in the late 1950s, in which he would sometimes update her on Khory’s activities, and he always signed off with salutations from both himself and Khory the cat – or sometimes just from Khory. In one letter, Velasco Maidana writes, “[Khory] received the kisses that you sent him and for his part today sends you many meows, which I hope sounds very sweet to your ears.”

Rabies vaccination card for Khory the Cat (José María Velasco Maidana Papers, University of Houston Special Collections)

The story of Khory the cat is a small facet of the rich and varied materials in the Dorothy Hood Papers and the José María Velasco Maidana Papers, which are both now open for research. Hood’s materials include correspondence, scrapbooks, exhibition programs, writings, including manuscripts of her unpublished autobiography, photographs, publicity and press, and realia that paints a picture of a woman making her living as an artist in Houston in the last half of the 20th century. Velasco Maidana’s collection includes handwritten musical scores of his compositions, correspondence, scrapbooks, press, recordings of performances of his music, and a variety of materials related to the Amerindia ballet he composed, including the scores, paintings of costume designs, choreography notes, and correspondence. The University of Houston Special Collections is currently open by appointment; for more information, please contact Christian Kelleher at cdkelleher@uh.edu.

Remembering Nicholas John Tsacrios

Performing & Visual Arts

Nicholas John Tsacrios

Nicholas John Tsacrios passed away in Sarasota, Florida on May 4, 2020 at the age of 92 from natural causes. Nick was the long-time companion of José Quintero, legendary Tony Award winning Broadway Director and Founder of Circle in the Square in Manhattan.

Nick was born on November 5, 1927 in Clearwater, Florida to Greek parents. His loving mother Sevasti Tsacrios passed away when Nick was only two years old. Nick was raised by his loving father John M. Tsacrios, Sr. who was a prominent pioneer merchant and civic leader in Clearwater, Florida.

Nick is survived by one brother Manuel “Buster” Tsacrios and a half-sister Maria John Tsacrios Molett and half-brothers John M. Tsacrios, Jr. and Frank John Tsacrios.

Nick was the eighth of nine children and the first to graduate from college due to the encouragement and support of his stepmother Xanthippi Tsacrios who he and José loved very much. Nick studied at the University of Florida and at the University of Madrid in Spain where he learned Spanish and became a bullfighter.

Nick was a creative adventurous person who loved cooking, entertaining, gardening, the arts, and caring for animals especially his loving cat Gato. He was renowned for his wonderful sense of humor that he got from his father.

José Quintero and Nicholas John Tsacrios

Nick met José Quintero in the 1950’s in New York City when Nick was at the height of his career as an advertising executive in Manhattan. Nick and José had endearing friendships throughout their lives with renowned artists Liv Ullmann, Gloria Vanderbilt, Vanessa Redgrave, Tennessee Williams, Mexican star Dolores del Rio, Jason Robards, Roddy McDowall, Charles Nelson Reilly, dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, Greek film actor and artist Vassili Lambrinos, and Angelina Fiordellisi of the Cherry Lane Theater in New York City.

Nick was a significant source of support for José Quintero’s work as a lecturer and professor at the University of Houston, Florida State University, the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre in Palm Beach, Florida, and during Quintero’s theater workshops in Los Angeles, California, and directing plays at Houston’s Alley Theater. Nick and José worked closely for many years with their beloved friend Sydney Berger, the revered former Director, Producer, and Mentor of the University of Houston School of Theatre & Dance.

Nick was instrumental in establishing the José Quintero Archives at the University of Houston which also houses the José Quintero Theater. Nick maintained a supportive relationship with the José Quintero Theater in New York City.

During Nick’s later years in Sarasota he was blessed to be surrounded by many loving, caring friends especially George Karabatsos from Saint Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church where Nick loved to volunteer.

Memorial services were held at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas, Texas, Saint Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church in Sarasota, Florida, and Nick’s beloved Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

John M. Tsacrios, Jr. brother of Nicholas John Tsacrios, provided this memorial.

Special Collections closed until further notice, available remotely

Department News

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus), on-site access to Special Collections is unavailable. However, staff remain available to support teaching, learning, and research activities. We ask that researchers contact a collection curator or inquire here for assistance.

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