Hot on the heels of the announcement of a $3 Million endowed chair in equine medicine at the University of Pennsylvania by Barbaro's owners is a smaller but none the less touching announcement of a gift to the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.
Mule lover Virginia Etheridge died recently and specified in her will that approximately $420,862 be donated to the school to supplement an existing College of Veterinary Medicine Mule Team and Public Relations Endowment.
The mules have represented the vet school, MU and Missouri to thousands of people since they became part of the vet school in 1982. Pulling a dozen-passenger wagon, they've paraded in MU homecomings, governor inaugurations, Missouri State Fair opening ceremonies, the St. Louis Charity Horse Show and the Kansas City American Royal Parade, as well as small town parades, picnics and weddings.
Etheridge's gift will be used for the mule team's travel expenses, care and feeding; passenger wagon maintenance; and support for a truck and trailer.
A former vet school employee, Mrs. Etheridge was no stranger to the College. With the help of Hill's Pet Nutrition and Bayer Pharmaceuticals, she donated funds for the purchase of two mules. For more than two decades, Etheridge brought the mules fresh carrots and apples on most Sunday afternoons.
Because mules can withstand heat that horses cannot, they were important in the early days of American cotton and tobacco production. They also were an important part of Missouri's early economy. Missouri became an important provider of mules because of westward expansion; mules were sold to pioneers, carried freight, cleared trees to start farms and even pulled trains and riverboats. When motorized alternatives became popular, the mules faded slowly from Missouri agriculture. The students who care for the MU mule team today are practicing skills almost forgotten in the 21st century.
Former US President Harry S. Truman, proud to be the son of a horse and mule dealer, invited a four-mule hitch from his hometown of Lamar, Missouri to drive in his 1948 inaugural parade up Pennsylvania Avenue.
The mascot mules are tended by the college's Mule Club, about 20 or so veterinary medical students who care for and exhibit the mules.
Regarding her gifts to the mule team, Etheridge was known to say, "I have never before donated to a project that has given me such satisfaction."
Photo courtesy UMCVM; story written from a press release provided by the University.