In the fall of 1954, Frederick Saint John was planning to make Phoenix his new home.
He had hitchhiked out to Arizona a few years prior to stay with his aunt. Never one to sit still, he taught swimming in Prescott for a while but found that it was too cold. He then tried to make a living in California; however, after a brief illness, found himself back in the desert.
One day, seeing his need for activity, Saint John’s aunt encouraged him to go to the little college down the street. He could get an education, meet some friends, and establish roots in his adopted town.
An Accidental Student
Curious, he wandered over to the Phoenix College (PC) campus and stood along the fence watching the football team practice on the field. Unknowingly, he caught the attention of the football coach and the following conversation took place.
“Hey, you’re a big guy! Do you want to play football? What classes are you taking?” – Coach Montgomery
“I’m not enrolled.” – Frederick Saint John
“Are you going to enroll?” – Coach Montgomery
“Am I going to play?” – Frederick Saint John
“I don’t cut anyone. Get inside and grab a uniform.” – Coach Montgomery
And with that, Saint John became a student at Phoenix College. In addition to playing football, he rented out a converted garage apartment, enrolled in theater courses, joined the track team, and modeled for the art department.
Saint John’s football career would be short-lived, however. He was injured in an early game and sidelined for the season, but he wouldn’t miss the roar of the crowd and the heat of the field for long.
A Bear is Born
During an art class, Saint John’s professor asked him to play the mascot, Bumstead, at the Phoenix College Homecoming Football Game and earn ten-dollars. It was a paying acting opportunity so he couldn’t say no.
When the day arrived, Saint John donned the Bumstead persona with accompanying bear suit and played to the excited Homecoming fans.
“Being Bumstead was a high. It was so much fun – the cheers of the crowd, laughter, it was addicting. I knew all the football players but they didn’t know I was Bumstead so I had fun with it.” – Frederick Saint John
After the Homecoming game, Saint John enthusiastically asked when his next Bumstead appearance would be. He quickly learned that the college only introduced Bumstead during Homecoming and couldn’t afford to pay for any more appearances.
Saint John replied incredulously, “That’s crazy! I’ll do it for free!”
With that, the first full-time Bumstead mascot was born. The PC administrators happily employed him for all home and away football games that year.
After his time at PC, Saint John went on to pursue theater at Ohio State University, joined the Navy, and eventually got his degree from Ohio Dominican in Theater Education. Personifying the Phoenix College mascot had such a profound impact on his life that Saint John continued this work in several roles, notably as Ronald McDonald (30 years), Santa Claus (40 years), and family-friendly clowns. Today, Saint John is still very active in theater. He is currently acting in the play, Don’t Dress for Dinner at the Theatre West SCW (Sun City West).
He holds a special place in his heart for the Bear that started it all.
For his dedication to the role, Frederick Saint John was presented with a Phoenix College Diploma as Bumstead, his fondest role.
Saint John is part of the Phoenix College Half Century Club and is active on campus. If you graduated more than fifty years ago from Phoenix College, you are eligible to join this distinguished association. Learn more about the Half Century Club.