Story provided by Stillwater Public Schools
Stillwater Public Schools unveiled a new costume last week for longtime mascot Peter Pioneer. A remodeled head and costume made their debut appearance at SHS’s outdoor Homecoming Pep Rally on Wednesday and showed up again on Thursday for the Lady Pioneer Softball send-off and later at the football game.
The first student to don the new costume is senior Elmer Saldivar, who’s been an SPS student since kindergarten at Will Rogers Elementary School. “When I was younger, I do remember seeing the old Peter Pioneer head, and I would be terrified of it!” says Saldivar, referring to an aging mascot head that is nearly 50 years old, and has been deteriorating in recent years. “I never thought I would ever be Peter Pioneer!”
Saldivar wasn’t really a part of many student groups or activities while an SHS student, but decided to change that his Senior year. “This year I joined Beta Club, and Stillwater Makes A Change,” he says. He also pursued becoming Peter Pioneer.
“A lot of my friends encouraged me to ask about being the school’s mascot,” Saldivar says. “When I was selected, Mr.Gordon mentioned a new mascot to me, but I was not expecting the new mascot to look so awesome! I think the new costume looks fantastic!”
SPS Public Relations and Communications Coordinator Barry Fuxa, who worked over the summer to update the mascot, says, “When he first saw the new head, Elmer’s smile was almost bigger than the one on the mascot. I could tell he was a great fit for the role. I have no doubt he’ll bring the friendliness and energy to Peter Pioneer that we want the character to have.”
Fuxa says he’s both excited and a little nervous about the reception of the new mascot. “Anytime you change something, there will be those that preferred the former design, but the Peter Pioneer head that’s been in use is from at least the mid 1970s. Mr. Gordon had mentioned that it was probably time to retire it in order to preserve it,” Fuxa says. “It’s aging, starting to fragment and crack in places, heavy, and very difficult to adequately sanitize, but it is a beloved part of SHS history. So we took this as an opportunity to modernize the functionality of the mascot and, while working with students, staff, alumni, and a former Peter Pioneer, to take the design in a more approachable direction for kids.”
“There were a few things everyone seemed to agree on – beard, outdoorsy, coonskin cap, natural colors, and a friendlier expression than the existing head. Many mentioned the empty eye sockets on the existing heads bothered them, especially when they were younger,” says Fuxa. In addition to focus groups with some of last year’s seniors and conversations with alumni and staff, Fuxa spoke with SHS alumnus Jason Hynson, who was not only Peter Pioneer, but also OSU’s Pistol Pete. Hynson helped Fuxa out using his experience as both mascots to identify a few things to address in the design. The new costume features a significantly lighter head that does not rest on the shoulders and will allow the mascots to turn their head easily and is also equipped with a fan to help circulate air.
The new friendlier look is a bit of a departure from the more rugged features and neutral expression of former Peter Pioneer heads, and Fuxa says that’s by design. “This Peter Pioneer will be making more appearances at events with our youngest students in attendance. Whether they’re a Panther, a Ridgerunner, Cub, Eagle, Mustang, or Rocket, all our elementary students are a part of the Pioneer family, and we want them to know that and be excited about it. This Peter costume is about having school spirit at the high school level and also expanding it across the district and building that connection from a young age through appearances at school fundraisers, parades, and community events.”
Fuxa was pleased to see students interacting with the new Peter at Homecoming events. “It was great to see smiles on kids’ faces as they embraced, sometimes literally, the new Peter Pioneer,” says Fuxa. “With someone like Elmer inside that costume, I’m sure even those who may look fondly back on the previous Peter heads will come to love the new smiley Peter Pioneer.”
After updating the head and costume designs, Fuxa made one addition to Peter Pioneer. “Several contributors to the design of the new costume mentioned that Peter needed an accessory,” Fuxa says. “So we added a wooden walking stick to be symbolic of the Pioneer spirit.” A few minutes before he transferred the costume to Saldivar, Fuxa decided he wanted a way to make the young man feel like he was part of the history of the character. After showing Saldivar the costume, Fuxa handed him the walking stick, which features a gold S painted on top. Fuxa then handed him a silver pen and told him to sign the stick wherever he wanted and that every future Peter Pioneer would sign it as well.
“The idea of signing the walking stick makes it even more special for the individuals that are Peter Pioneer,” Saldivar says. “It’s going to bring a lot of memories when we will look back at the stick with all the signatures. I’m really glad that my friends really did encourage me to be the school’s mascot. Without them, I wouldn’t have ever thought about being Peter Pioneer!”