DeKALB — Dozens gathered Thursday evening at the west side of Huskie Stadium to witness the unveiling of the Diesel Memorial, a sculpture donated to the university by the Diesel Memorial Project.
The bronze statue, designed by sculptor Renee Bemis, is of former Huskie mascot Diesel extending a paw up for a high-five. The pose was inspired by a moment from a November 2013 football game against Ball State University where Diesel high-fived an NIU cheerleader after the Huskies scored a touchdown. The statue is meant to memorialize not just Diesel, but all NIU live mascots that have embodied Huskie pride.
Diesel was NIU’s live mascot from 2005 to 2013, appearing at sporting events in DeKalb and all over the nation until his passing in 2015.
The statue means more to the community than just honoring a mascot, especially to Diesel’s former owner Tom Bonnevier.
Bonnevier was with Diesel at every game and worked on the project to have the statue funded and built; he said seeing the statue for the first time was an emotional moment.
“It’s amazing,” Bonnevier said. “Honestly, it was very emotional when they took the cover off, and I saw his face.”
For many close to Diesel and the project, it was an incredible sight to finally see the statue in full, said Pat Radek, Diesel Memorial Project founder.
“I can hardly come up with the words,” Radek said. “It’s just fantastic. Diesel meant so much to so many people.”
Radek worked on the Diesel Memorial Project and spoke at the unveiling ceremony. The project started as a GoFundMe page in May 2016 with a goal of raising $25,000 for the memorial. The project has raised $22,000 at the time of the ceremony Thursday from over 300 different donors, Radek said.
Among the donors for the project are NIU alumni, DeKalb-based businesses and even fans from rival Mid-American Conference schools. Bonnevier said MAC schools are competitive but are all part of one community.
“It shows you no matter what, when you play each other, there is competition,” Bonnevier said. “But especially in the postseason, when a MAC school is in a bowl game, every MAC fan roots for a MAC school.”
While the statue is up now at Huskie Stadium, the project committee will continue to try to raise the final few thousand to fund the statue.
“We just need to finish paying the bills,” Radek said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble raising the additional money that we owe.”