By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Few people have access to Raymond Schultze’s creation.
For 362 days a year, it’s stashed inside University of Nebraska at Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen’s conference room – tucked between a pair of bookcases filled with various mementos and scholarly literature.
Among the items on display – volleyballs signed by former Loper players, volumes of books on the “Writings of Washington” and “Laws of Nebraska” and a nameplate and gavel from Kristensen’s time as speaker of the Nebraska Legislature – the bronze piece perched on a wooden pedestal can be easily overlooked.
That won’t be the case Friday, when the ceremonial mace comes out of hiding to take center stage during UNK’s spring commencement.
The symbolic staff has been part of UNK’s graduation celebration for more than 30 years, dating back to when the school was known as Kearney State College.
William Nester, the last president of Kearney State College and first chancellor of UNK, commissioned the piece, which made its public debut during the 1985 commencement.
Schultze, an art professor here from 1965 to 2000, was tasked with designing and constructing the mace. “There’s quite a bit of symbolism worked into it,” he said.
The mace features five fluted columns representing each of the five schools that comprised Kearney State College at that time. Strips of brass binding the columns represent the faculty and administration and college’s unity.
Schultze used a mold of a cottonwood leaf – Nebraska’s state tree – to create a sheaf of flora representing the state’s agriculture and a large, brass sphere depicts the world as a whole. The 41-inch mace is topped with a pronghorn antelope head – the school’s mascot – and draped in blue and gold tassels.
The mace was a weapon in the Middle Ages also used to restore order in legislative assemblies. Later, it became a ceremonial symbol of authority.
UNK’s version is carried during each commencement by the longest-tenured faculty member.
For nearly a decade, that’s been associate theater professor Jack Garrison, who joined the university 50 years ago. He became the longest-serving faculty member in 2009, when A. Steele Becker retired after 45 years with UNK.
Garrison carries the mace during the spring and winter commencements, but not during the summer, when he is busy portraying “Crazy Meek” the Mountain Man as a professional re-enactor at The Archway museum in Kearney.
He views the honor as recognition of a faculty member’s contributions to the university.
“I enjoy doing it, and it gets me a front-row seat,” Garrison said with a chuckle.
Schultze, a trained sculptor who also started the glassblowing program at Kearney State College in 1971, has another piece displayed on campus.
The York native created “Nyabraskaka” to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial in 1976. Schultze said that statue, also cast in bronze and displayed inside the Fine Arts Building, is his creative interpretation of the Oto Indian word for Nebraska, which means “flat water” in reference to the Platte River.
Both pieces, the 84-year-old Papillion resident said, could use a good shining.
“One of these days when I come out that way I’ll stop in and polish them,” he said.
What: UNK Spring Commencement
When: 10 a.m., Friday, May 4
Where: UNK Health and Sports Center, 24th Street and 15th Avenue, Kearney
Social Media: Follow @UNKearney and #lopergrad on Instagram and Twitter to see photos and posts from 2018 graduates, their friends and families
Live Broadcast: Watch Commencement live and join in the #lopergrad conversation at http://unk.edu/eventdashboard