Worth Doing

Sculptor and UVU alum Virgil Oertile creates new symbol of wolverine pride.

Sculpting has always been in Virgil Oertle’s blood. But until he came to Utah Valley State College in the fall of 1996, he had no formal art training.

While he was growing up, Oertle’s father would carve wooden sculptures using primarily a chainsaw. When Oertle came to UVSC, he began taking classes in sculpting and quickly found his calling, enrolling in every class available to him in the program.

“A few years later I was offered an adjunct position to teach the classes I had taken a couple of years before,” Oertle says.

After a few years of teaching, Oertle left Utah to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees before returning home. Oertle was working as a sculptor for some time when he designed a statue for Brigham Young University featuring its school mascot. This is when he found his niche of designing “mascot benches.”

After completing the project for BYU, Oertle met with Jared Sumsion, the associate athletic director for UVU at the time, about doing a similar project for UVU’s Willy the Wolverine. With interest high but funding low, Oertle made a small model of Willy. This small model eventually became the same design as the current statue that sits on UVU’s Orem campus today.

Sumsion then directed Oertle to UVU Licensing Manager Matthew Chambers. “Virgil came to me and proposed the idea of the statue, and we instantly loved it,” Chambers says. “Everyone who saw what this statue could mean to the school fell in love with the project.”

With funds still low, UVU’s Image Committee decided to take on the statue in small projects. The first objective was to find a place where the statue could call home. After several locations were proposed, the committee quickly decided that the statue would be placed outside the Student Life & Wellness Center. As the center of student activities, it would be a place to connect the mascot to the students.

Due to Oertle’s personal history with the university, he envisioned making a contribution to the campus. “I really loved my time at the school and was committed to getting the Willy statue accomplished,” Oertle says.

After six years of waiting, funding finally became available with a donation from James and Andrea Clarke, who have made several contributions to UVU. Oertle was able to begin work on the statue that drew him back to his roots.

With everything in place, the last step was to make the sculpture true to the Wolverine spirit. Oertle, who has completed several mascot statues for other schools, says, “Inspiration comes from the school itself. The school tells me what their mascot is like, and I create their vision.”

"Inspiration comes from the school itself. The school tells me what their mascot is like and I create their vision"

Because Oertle is a UVU alumnus, Chambers says the Image Committee wanted to make this statue larger than others he has created. “We wanted students to feel its grandeur and wanted the statue to really grasp people when they see it,” Chambers says.

To make it easier for any student, alum, parent, or member of the community to feel a connection with the statue, Willy’s traditional bandana reading his name was switched to read “Wolverines.” A tribute to academics was also made by adding books, to show that even the mascot is studious.

“I think my favorite part is when I’m all finished and the piece ends up on campus,” Oertle says. “There is a lot of stress with anything that’s worth doing, and seeing the finished project and knowing everyone is happy with it really feels amazing.”

The statue was unveiled in September 2019 to celebrate Homecoming Week and UVU’s anniversary.

“The mascot bench represents goals, dreams, and pride in UVU,” Chambers says. “At graduation, new student orientation, and other events, this statue is something that will make people proud to be a part of UVU.”

By Katelyn Hughes

Virgil Oertle and his wife sit next to his statue outside the Student Life and Wellness Center.
Virgil Oertle and his wife sit next to his statue outside the Student Life & Wellness Center. Photo by August Miller