the westminster review logo

The Misadventure of Vern the Vulture

Vern the Vulture, illustrated by Emily Engstrom

A lucky garage-sale find creates camaraderie amongst Carleson Hall residents 

by Johanna Snow (MSC ’14)
illustration by Emily Engstrom (’20)

In the fall of 1985, Vern—a three-foot-tall, plush toy vulture—was unwanted, unloved, and unaware that he was destined to be a mascot for fun and friendship on a college campus. Then one day he was rescued from a garage sale by Westminster sophomore Steve Prasad (’88), who was charmed by Vern’s big orange feet and crooked neck. After some haggling, Steve purchased Vern for five dollars and took him to his room in Carleson Hall, where Steve was a resident advisor. 

That was only the beginning of Vern’s adventures. It wasn’t long before the vulture was at the center of a series of pranks that built an atmosphere of camaraderie for the residents of Carleson during the 1985–86 academic year. Throughout that year, Vern found himself the target of numerous kidnapping schemes. 

“You know, back in those days, we just left our doors open because there were probably not more than 50 or 75 of us, and we all knew each other,” Steve recalls. “It got to be a little bit of a game: someone would take Vern, and I’d have to pay a ransom; I’d have to do something to get Vern back.” Steve would often find a ransom note in Vern’s place that would request something like a pizza be delivered to a specified location in exchange for Vern. “Eventually, I started locking my door because I thought, ‘Hmm…I’m spending a lot of pizza money,’” Steve remembers.

Vern might have breathed a sigh of relief after that and looked forward to a quiet winter locked up snug in Steve’s room, but sadly, his trials didn’t end there. 

Michael Gibbs (’90) was a freshman living in Carleson that year. He recalls going to great lengths to steal Vern from Steve’s room. “There were a bunch of us, but yes, I was one person who was in on it. When we very first started doing it, Steve would try to find ways to lock Vern up so that we couldn’t get into his room.” Michael and his gang of fellow freshmen were undeterred. “One particular way we got into it was we had a guy who did rapelling. We got up onto the roof of Carleson Hall, and we rapelled off the roof and broke in through his window,” he explains. Soon after, Vern found himself strung up from a flagpole. On other occasions, Vern was hung from the balcony of Foster Hall and outside Steve’s window, or he was stuffed in the hallway phone booths. 

Both Steve and Michael remember these pranks fondly, saying they were executed in good fun and as part of the jovial environment in Carleson at the time—but poor Vern might have felt differently about it. Or maybe he was proud of the pivotal role he played in enriching campus life and creating bonds of lifelong friendships.



About the Westminster Review

The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.