By Kelly Curran
As Ohio University's annual Homecoming parade makes its way down Court Street this Saturday, Associate Professor Ben Stuart will lead the charge in an SUV that runs solely on recycled dining hall grease.
The biodiesel-fueled Ford Excursion is a fitting lead vehicle considering that this Homecoming's theme -- "Get Your Green On" -- emphasizes the importance of safeguarding the environment.
"If you've ever been in a restaurant and smelled the hot grease, you'll have an idea of what this smells like," said Stuart, whose vehicle's license plate reads "BIOD4ME."
Stuart is a faculty member in civil engineering and executive director of the university's Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment. He and his colleagues work to find clean and renewable sources of energy. In addition to utilizing dining hall grease, the institute has been working with substances such as algae and sunflower oil.
"We need to find better and more sustainable sources of energy. If we converted all the grease in the world to biodiesel, that would only fill 4 percent of the total diesel demand," Stuart said. He cites -- in addition to obvious environmental reasons -- such pocketbook issues as rising food and gas prices as examples of the need for change.
This year's Homecoming theme is a step in the right direction, Stuart said.
"To have an entire theme on sustainability and environmental stewardship is really cool and timely," he said. Stuart and other representatives of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology will pass out sunflower seeds and spread the word about the university's environmental research to Saturday's parade-goers.
The parade also will feature another unique car. Parade Marshal Richard "Dick" Linke, a 1941 journalism grad and former associate producer of the "Andy Griffith Show," will ride in the original 1961 Mayberry police car. During his career, Linke worked as Griffith's personal manager and as a production consultant and adviser on the show "Matlock." He also guided the careers of celebrities such as Frankie Avalon, Doris Day and Bobby Vinton.
Despite his busy career, Linke maintained close ties to the university. In 1959, he received the Ohio University Alumni Association's Medal of Merit, and in 1967, he became the association's first Alumnus of the Year. He earned the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism's L.J. Hortin Outstanding Alumnus Award in 1990 and returned to teach journalism from 1991 to 1996. He also established the school's Richard O. Linke Scholarship. Now retired, Linke is an Ohio University Foundation trustee.
The parade, which starts at 10 a.m., also will feature the Marching 110, University Program Council-sponsored float and banner competitions and an array of other unique and traditional attractions. Reusable totes and recyclable key chains will be among the freebies passed out along the route.
There are other opportunities to celebrate this weekend as well.
On Friday, the Student Alumni Board's annual "Yell Like Hell" pep rally, featuring performances by the Marching 110, the cheerleaders and the dance team, will follow the women's volleyball match against Akron at the Convocation Center. It will include the inaugural Big Mama's Burrito-Eating Contest, pitting the local restaurant's top 15 burrito eaters against Volleyball Coach Ryan Theis.
Following Saturday's parade, alumni are invited to join the pre-game Bobcat Bash in Baker University Center and visit a "Come Home to History" exhibit on display from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. At 2 p.m. Saturday, the Bobcats take on Virginia Military Institute at Peden Stadium, where fans can register for a raffle featuring such prizes as weekend getaways, cornhole sets and even -- in keeping with the theme -- a solar-powered cell phone charger.
For a full lineup of Homecoming activities, visit www.ohio.edu/homecoming. Events in the green theme are listed at www.facilities.ohiou.edu/conservation/Homecoming_2008.htm.
Mary Alice Casey contributed to this article.