The story behind the sign

Many signs display Cougar pride on the way to Pullman, but only one stands 27 feet high and 400 feet long. The “Go Cougs” shed 12 miles east of Othello on Highway 26 was created in 1998 by Coug brothers Orman and Gavin Johnson.

“We needed to build a potato storage,” Orman says.

It was that simple.

“We’d drive to football games and we’d see small signs,” he says. “We thought, ‘we should do that’.”

And so the process began. Orman and Gavin say they knew they wanted to use sheet metal so there wouldn’t be any upkeep, but they didn’t have a lot of selection when it came to colors.

“It’s probably not ‘Bill Moos crimson,’” Gavin admits, noting the colors cost them a little extra. And a windmill.

Gavin says the person supplying them with the sheet metal said he would give them the extra in exchange for an old windmill they had on the farm. The swap was a no-brainer.

Since then, the shed area has seen everything from pickup football games to graduation pictures.

“We’re having my daughter Becca’s wedding reception in there this summer,” Orman says.

The Johnsons have a long history of Cougar blood. Orman and Gavin’s grandfather started the trend when he graduated from Washington State College in 1906, followed by their three uncles in the 1930s and mother in the 1940s. Next was Orman’s sister, who graduated in 1967, followed by Orman in 1969 and his youngest sister in 1972. And while Gavin did not actually attend WSU, his pride shows he might as well have.

“Most of the family has the red license plates,” Gavin says.

Kristin Gauthier, Orman’s daughter and WSU alumna, says that while in college, people would ask her where she was from, and when she explained her farm was where the sign was located, she was almost seen as a local celebrity.

“It’s fun to share and everybody knows where it is,” she says.

And “everybody” isn’t that much of an exaggeration. They’ve seen people from all over the world stop to take pictures, says Orman.

When they were on vacation in Hawaii, Orman says someone noticed his WSU hat and they had the normal exchange of “Go Cougs” before starting up a casual conversation. The young man, who was attending Seattle Pacific University, just happened to have a picture of the shed on his phone, Orman says.

“Obviously I know there’s a special history with our family,” says Gauthier. “There’s an aspect of history and tradition and it’s really nice to be a part of.”

So where do the Johnson brothers go from here? Gavin says they have discussed plans to add painted Cougar heads to the ends of the shed.

“That shed is never going to be taken down,” Gavin said. “It should last at least 60 years. But if needs to be replaced, it will.”

Kelly Montgomery ’13

Murrow News Service

The Go Cougs barn owned by Johnson Agriprises
The Johnson Agriprises “Go Cougs” barn (Via Pinterest/Courtesy Jason Krump)


Great company

Since graduation and after working in the “other” Washington and worldwide in over 20 countries, last year our downsizing exercise to “Condolandia” forced a rigorous review of my WSM collection. This stimulated this somewhat distant perspective.

WSM captures in so many interesting ways Washington’s special and very diverse ecology stimulated by its ocean frontage, mountainous ranges, micro and macroclimates, and diverse cultural bases from which the focused work of WSU faculty is provided with interesting and informed experiences. Washington is a different place and via WSM, you present WSU as a special institution. My youthful memories in the state, productive experiences in Pullman, and periodic engagements with alums overseas are strengthened and resurrected through your work. Having received master’s degrees from other prestigious schools, I am reminded of the tendency to advance alumni contributions, faculty achievements, sport accolades, etc. You are at a different level such that WSM’s always interesting and some even enlightening articles, has become my state version of my favorite magazine, Smithsonian.

Recent highlight recollections include the archeological digs at Neah Bay, Washington soils, feeding the world, fading memories, and several foods from rhubarb to apples.

Keep up the good work!

David Bathrick ’64

Retired Foreign Service Officer, Minister Councilor


Gun Show Nation

I read the conversation with Joan Burbick in the Summer ’13 issue with great interest. Based on my personal experience she made many valid points.

However, I believe she failed to grasp the principal reason the NRA shifted to a strong political posture in the 1970s. As an NRA Life Member active since the 1970s, I can confirm that the NRA (along with the gunowners it represented) was forced into defense against a legislative juggernaut. Draconian state and federal laws were enacted in response to the assasinations of the 1960s. These laws created the huge, federal BATF bureacracy which has demonstrably done nothing to make our country safer since 1968.

At the same time, the militant radical movement, epitomized by the Black Panthers parading heavily armed around the streeets of Oakland, also led to calls for further infringement on citizens’ right to bear arms by municipalities and states. Despite Ms. Burbick’s thinly veiled implication that the NRA was reacting in a racist manner, the NRA has consistently supported the rights of minorities to exercise their civil right to own firearms. Rather, it has been elected political leaders that have historically denied minorities these rights.

It might interest your readers to know that as a resident of Stephenson South in 1966, I kept my hunting rifle and shotgun in my dorm room closet … as did my roommate. We often enjoyed hunting and shooting along the valleys of the Palouse country and pheasant was often cooked up on a Sunday afternoon on contraband hotplates. With apologies to Dorm Mama Luck.

Bill Wright ’71

I read the article “Gun Show Nation—a conversation with Joan Burbick” with a combination of interest and dismay.

The interest was in an article about gun shows which I find interesting in their own right and could be viewed as a uniquely U.S. subculture. The dismay was the quick hits that cast the shows in an unfavorable light with use of words such as “racist,” “sexist,” and “neo-Nazi book exhibits.” Perhaps some gun shows have these elements, but the last gun show I attended in February 2013 included a large number of blacks, Hispanics, Asians (too many cultures to easily list), a large number of women, and if there were neo-Nazis they had their tattoos hidden.

If we are writing about gun shows and the romance of the West, why not look at the relationship between firearms and the strong Populist movement in the West? Perhaps the article does not fairly reflect the content of the book but after reading the author’s views in the article I wonder if conclusions were reached first followed by research.

I’ll let you know my opinion of the book—I just placed it on hold at a nearby library.

Richard Utter ’73

Walnut Creek, California


Dan and Val Ogden

Your article about Dan and Val Ogden brought back memories about one of my favorite elective classes while attending WSC in the late ’50s. I selected Political Science 101 and was fortunate to have
Dan Ogden as my instructor. From the first day it was obvious that Dan was a Democrat and the class was going to be informative and exciting.

As I remember our tests were essay type and the first one shook up all of us as the average was 26 out of a possible 100 points. Dan laughed and told us he grades this way to sometimes discover a Rhodes Scholar. After this shock, we then understood what Dan wanted and the median grade improved.

I was born into a Democratic family and Dan’s influence solidified my beliefs.

Jack Domit ’60

Post Falls, Idaho


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