Pelican’s own “Bigfoot” has been motivational hit in instilling Viking Pride and inspiring students

By Louis Hoglund

Harry the Hairy Man is in his second year as a “mascot” in the Pelican schools.

There’s reading. There’s writing. Arithmetic.

And then, there’s “Viking Culture.” With some inspiration, motivation, goals, and a positive culture; the framework for learning should go hand-in-hand. Viking pride and culture has been a thrust for Pelican Rapids High School Dean of Students Doug Bruggeman.

Vic the Viking has been a symbol of Viking Pride for about eight decades. But a second motivational figure has been added: Harry, patterned after the mythic Big Foot of the Vergas Klondike—the Vergas Harry Man.

“Big, Hairy, Audacious Vision” is advocated in the Pelican hallways and classrooms, with Harry as the mascot. Choosing a distinctive, fun character as a mascot helps Pelican teachers and staff promote important life skills, which captures the attention of kids from kindergarten to senior high.

A legendary Sasquatch, Harry has become something of a para-professional, classroom assistant at the Pelican schools. Buildings and facilities superintendent Trevor Steeves and his crew even built a 7-foot-tall Harry the Big Foot, who lurks in the hallways and reminds students of “Big Hairy Vision.” 

For a school board accustomed to reviewing financial statements, enrollment trends, and budgets—a presentation about an abominable snowman was a welcome diversion.

“Viking Pride” was the focus of Pelican Rapids school Dean of Students Doug Bruggeman’s school board presentation.

Instilling school pride; student wellness, careers topic for school board 

The Dean of Students and the high school counselor, Kelsey Lage, spoke at the Feb. 15 meeting.

They outlined the programs and initiatives beyond the classroom; those public school services less evident than the traditional pencil-paper-desk-computer learning. Between Lage, the in-school Lutheran Social Services counselor, and Bruggeman, there is a solid foundation to meet special and situational student needs, which they reported to the board.

“Culture is a tough thing to describe,” said Bruggeman, a longtime Pelican teacher-coach who was promoted to Dean several years ago. “You know a good culture, and you know a bad culture; but the ins and outs of a positive culture are difficult to measure.” 

Bruggeman’s audacious vision: “Pelican Schools are the best in the nation to work, learn and grow.” Such an objective, too, is hard to measure.

But half the battle—and the fun—is the striving to achieve the goal. 

Pelican’s Hairy man reinforces good habits 

Harry’s job description at the Pelican schools is wide-ranging.

“Harry is like our cheerleaders,” said Bruggeman.

• He fosters a community where everybody—from staff to students to families—feels “seen, known, and loved.” • Harry encourages people to “be the best version of themselves…Impactful, service-driven, and a positive force.” 

• Harry has been a symbolic force in sustaining the “Leader in Me-Seven Habits” program that was introduced in Pelican schools about ten years ago. Bruggeman has become a devoted believer in the “Seven Habits,” which he applies to himself as an adult.

“If students gain the value of just three of the seven habits, it’s worth the value of a diploma,” said Bruggeman. 

• Three of Harry’s biggest allies are student organizations, who are foot soldiers for the “Big Hairy Vision.” These include the student council, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), and the Minnesota Honor Society.

• Numerous initiatives help cement the audacious goals, such as a Harryinspired event that raised $4,000 for the Pelican Area Food Shelf. The volleyball team, for another example, has made community service and volunteering cornerstones of off-court activities, noted Bruggeman.

“We rely on those (in student organizations and teams) to provide the energy,” said Bruggeman. 

All students count in Pelican, says Dean of Students 

Modeled after the legendary “Hairy Man of Vergas,” Pelican school has its own “Harry,” who is pictured here with high school students during a holiday season campaign to raise food and funds for the food shelf.

But it’s not all about the prom queens and the star athletes, said Bruggeman.

All kids count. He mentioned an eighth grader, “the quietest person I know.” He’s been trying to get her to come out of her shell, so “I touch base with her at least once a week.” 

“We have to constantly reach out to all students…everybody can make an impact,” said Bruggeman.

At a “normal” school, someone with Bruggeman’s Dean of Students job would be the “heavy”; the “bad cop” —associated with discipline, truancy, tardiness, punishment, and penalty. But with help from a “good guy” like Harry, positive messages and reinforcement “make my job fun.” Instead of suspension and detention, Bruggeman prefers inspiration and motivation whenever possible.

A National Guard recruiter at the school perhaps summed it up best. The recruiter visits many, many schools looking for young prospects.

“In Pelican, there’s always something going on,” said the recruiter. Chances are, when something good is going on, the Hairy Big Foot guy is nearby.