I Love CSU Day countdown: History lives at the “A”

Tradition. It’s what binds us together as Rams. The CSU Alumni Association is counting down to a special event and major announcement on I Love CSU Day, Tuesday, April 18, with a series of articles about some our most-beloved and enduring University traditions.

It’s easy to take CSU’s tradition of painting the “A” every fall for granted, in part because the larger-than-life symbol of our Aggie heritage has graced the Fort Collins landscape for so long that it has become as much a part of the city’s western backdrop as Horsetooth Mountain. But behind every timeless tradition is a story with at least one pivotal crisis and a character that goes above and beyond to resolve it.

Iconic symbol for 94 years

The story of the “A” began on December 4, 1923, when students agreed during a school assembly to create an insignia on the hogback west of campus. Work began a week later when students cleared underbrush and moved rocks under the A Club’s supervision. The military department donated vehicles to transport supplies and volunteers.

In the meantime, the college had acquired a long-term lease from landowner R.G. Maxwell for $1. The following September, students lengthened the legs of the “A” and lowered the crossbar, increasing its size to 450 feet high and 210 feet wide at the bottom. A week later, freshman whitewashed the giant letter, starting an annual rite that became part of the incoming class’s induction into the Aggie — and then Rams — family.

By the late 1970s, the tradition had faltered. CSU athletic director Thurman “Fum” McGraw understood that if the “A” eroded, so too would University spirit and pride. He enlisted longtime friend Bill Woods, a 1958 graduate, Vietnam War veteran, retired U.S. Army Colonel, and former president of the CSU Alumni Association to save the landmark.

Reviving the tradition

Woods helped revive the annual “Painting the A” event, realizing his goal of re-instituting an inclusive freshman experience. He’s had lots of help along the way, especially from Marshall Frasier, a professor of agriculture and resource economics.

Today, the CSU Alumni Association buys the environmentally friendly paint and a local gas company hauls it up to the top of the hogback, where students bused from Moby Arena use spray guns to renew the treasured symbol.

“The CSU Alumni Association is proud to support the painting of the ‘A’ each year,” said Kristi Bohlender, executive director of the Alumni Association. “There’s no greater beacon for our current students than the ‘A’ on the hill, guiding each of them, every day, in the direction of those Rams and Aggies who walked this path before us. It is our honor to continue to preserve this tradition on behalf of all of our alumni.”

Last year, the City of Fort Collins renewed CSU’s right to maintain the “A” in perpetuity, ensuring the longevity of CSU’s biggest point of pride.

You’re invited!

Students, faculty and staff, alumni, and friends and invited to join us outside the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center on the northeast side of the new stadium on Tuesday, April 18, at 4:30 p.m., for a special event and announcement celebrating the past, present, and future of CSU traditions.