He delivers a strong work ethic and is dependable.
He brings a positive attitude every day and through every outcome — even the occasional setback while out on the road.
He’s self-motivated and team-oriented. Able to grit through, pick up the flag and make a final push to glory.
And, after 45 years of arriving early, staying late and navigating a hectic schedule second only to the chancellor, Herbie Husker has never complained. Not once. Never a peep.
That dedication — alongside that of 969 other University of Nebraska–Lincoln employees — will be celebrated Sept. 18 during the Celebration of Service and All-University Picnic. The events, open to all employees, begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Coliseum.
During the festivities, Herbie will join other 45- and 50-year award winners on the stage with Chancellor Ronnie Green. The ceremony will be streamed live. A complete list of award winners — from 5 to 50 years — is also available online.
The personification of Nebraska’s hardworking, dedicated spirit, Herbie’s iconic career was founded in humble roots. Preceded by Nebraska mascot legends Corncob Man, Huskie the Husker and Harry Husker (a 10-foot tall costumed person decked out in a plaid shirt, jean-bib overalls and a straw hat), Herbie started as a drawing by Dirk West. He debuted in the final game of Tom Osborne’s first season — a 19-3 victory over Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Herbie became the university’s lead mascot in 1988 with the retirement of Harry “Mr. Big Red” Husker. He’s maintained an upward trajectory ever since, working diligently to support the university’s cheer squad.
“Herbie is really an easy person to work with,” said Erynn Butzke, head coach of the Husker spirit squad. “He doesn’t have a big head at all. His spirit is infectious and his dedication keeps us motivated.
“Really, he’s everything a Husker wants to be.”
Under the hat
An unofficial list of students who have served Herbie since 1977 has been lost to time. Which is fine as individuals who suit up as the university mascot are urged to keep their role a secret through graduation day.
“Our students who put on the costume have the option to wear Herbie’s shoes when they cross the stage for graduation,” Butzke said. “Very few choose that reveal because maintaining the secret preserves the magic of Herbie for all Husker fans.”
Butzke even had one student who never told his parents that he filled Herbie’s shoes.
“He was honored at an event and I took a picture with him,” Butzke said. “His parents wondered who this lady was with their son. That’s how they found out their son was Herbie.”
Serving as Herbie is not a paid position. Rather, students receive a small academic-based scholarship and are part of the university spirit squad. The minimum grade point average to participate is 2.5. In recent years, Nebraska’s mascots have maintained a GPA between 3.2 and 3.4.
Participation is open to all students, regardless of year in school. Tryouts are primarily by request and a minimum commitment of one year is required.
Mascots practice alongside the cheer squad for up to six hours each week. They also attend Husker games, campus events and other special events by request.
“I think the strangest ask we’ve had was for Herbie to serve as a pallbearer in a funeral,” Butzke said. “We’ve also had him stand in as an officiant in a wedding and walk the bride down the aisle. He gets invited to a lot of crazy things.”
A true Nebraskan
In the end, after perfecting Herbie’s moves and gestures, mascots step out as one of, if not the, most recognizable face in university history.
“As the coach, I find it amazing the different personalities that bring Herbie to life,” Butzke said. “If you met some of the people in the costume, you would never imagine they have the energy to be a mascot.
“But, there’s something transformative when the costume goes on. The spirit of Herbie takes over and people respond.”
In the end, that spirit is a direct reflection of what it means to be a Nebraskan.
“Herbie embodies the heart and soul of Nebraska,” Butzke said. “His roots are in agriculture and you aren’t ever going to outwork him. He’s honest and functions with integrity. He’s classy, respectful and charming as can be.
“He’s the perfect employee and someone I look forward to working with every day.”