This week the University of Arizona celebrates a century of homecoming tradition.
So we went to Facebook in search of families with generations of Wildcat alumni.
The spirited response shows that red and blue runs deep for many families. About 340 people liked the Facebook status, nearly 50 shared it, and more than 45 enthusiastically chimed in, filling the comments section with family trees full of UA diplomas.
Two families stood out for decades spent on campus earning a variety of degrees. We asked each of them to share what it means for their family to Bear Down.
Stephen Larimore estimates that he has more than 35 UA-themed shirts and a variety of ties — traditional gifts from his children that merit an entire section in his closet.
And that’s not counting his collection of memorabilia, such as a Wilbur Wildcat stuffed pillow and the Old Main photograph that hangs in his office at Raytheon.
That’s what happens when you grow up red and blue.
Now 57, Stephen Larimore’s Wildcat pride dates to his days as a toddler living with mom, Lillian Larimore, in Polo Village. The student housing complex was built of Quonset huts after World War II alongside the polo field where the University of Arizona Medical Center now stands.
For him, returning to the UA campus truly is a homecoming.
His parents, Lillian and John, graduated from the UA in 1958 with bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and mechanical engineering, respectively.
When his mother returned for her master’s degree in special education, his dad remained at the family’s home in Kearny, a mining town north of Tucson, to work.
“We would drive to Tucson Sunday evening and live Monday through Thursday, and then Thursday evening after my mom got out of class, we would drive back home for the weekend,” Stephen Larimore said. He recalled those days they lived with an aunt and uncle who also pursued degrees at the UA.
For homecoming, Stephen Larimore and his wife, Jeri, will have a home full of Wildcats. Their four children and their significant others hold a myriad of degrees from the UA. Those third-generation grads, spread between Phoenix and Tucson, return as often as possible for big games — as does John Larimore, who now lives in Globe.
In this family, the Wildcat tradition still starts young.
Shanna Mosley was born on her father, Stephen Larimore’s first day of class at the UA. She has memories of him studying at night and taking his girls on daddy-daughter date nights at football games with bonus trips to McDonald’s.
Now her children and their cousins love Bear Down Fridays at Main Gate Square.
When her husband, Brian, was studying for his law degree, the family would meet him for dinner on Fridays and then watch the Pride of Arizona band take to the streets the day before home football games.
Their daughter, Emma Mosley, about 3 at the time, was smitten.
“I was pregnant when we moved up to Phoenix, and my daughter — who is a huge UA fan — her biggest fear was, ‘Is the baby going to be a Sun Devil because he is born in Phoenix?’ ” Shanna Mosley, 33, said. “We bought a UA beanie so that the first time she saw her brother, we said, ‘Look, he wasn’t born a Sun Devil. He was born a Wildcat.’ … She introduces herself and says, ‘I’m from Tucson, and I’m a Wildcat fan.’ ”
Christi Stone, another of Stephen and Jeri Larimore’s daughters, also lives in Phoenix. She remembers her mom telling stories of taking the kids to football games. The family had season tickets “from the time we were babies,” she said.
“My parents would talk to us and say, ‘You can come here and get a degree here,’ and that influenced us,” said Christi Stone, now 31 and a first-grade-teacher-turned-stay-at-home-mom. “All of us were raised going to the university for all kinds of things. When we were younger, my dad pursued an MBA, so we remember going to his graduation.”
Tailgating traditions and football fun aside, this family remains rooted in the determination that inspired Lillian Larimore to commute nearly 100 miles to school.
“I can’t imagine graduating from a better place,” Stephen Larimore said.
All three of his daughters graduated with degrees in elementary education, and his mother stepped in to support them during their penny-pinching days of student-teaching. That continued even after Lillian Larimore retired from teaching.
“We knew if money was tight, Grandma was there to help us,” Shanna Mosley said. “She always said ‘That’s your job,’ and while we student-taught, she would supplement us so we could do a good job student-teaching.”
To see the hard work of one, two and now three generations could make choosing to Bear Down for a degree a no-brainer for the next generation.
“The UA was just always part of our lives,” said Mosley. “When we walk on campus, it still just feels like home.”
Joan Gissel Colavito sings “Bear Down, Arizona” to calm her 1-year-old grandson when he starts fussing in his car seat.
It’s a natural lullaby in a family with more than a dozen University of Arizona graduates and even more degrees.
The tradition of singing goes back to Colavito’s father, Ernest Gissel, a 1936 electrical engineering graduate.
“My brother and I were raised singing ‘Bear Down, Arizona,’ and we knew the words to ‘All Hail, Arizona,’ ” Joan Gissel Colavito, now 64, said in her email describing the family’s Arizona legacy. “My dad religiously would sing this at the end of every football game that he attended, with reverence! He also raised us thinking that the U of A was the only university that we would attend!”
Ernest Gissel moved to Arizona from New York as a 19-year-old battling asthma. The son of German immigrants who spoke little English, Gissel had been out of school since the fifth grade. His father, who had come to the United States just a few years before Gissel’s 1907 birth, found a place for them to live in Phoenix.
Ernest Gissel went on to graduate from Phoenix Union High School at 23 and from there enrolled at the University of Arizona. Back then, Tucson was home to the state’s only public university. The Arizona State Teacher’s College at Tempe went on to become Arizona State University in the late 1950s.
Even before Ernest Gissel graduated from the UA, Colavito’s great uncle on her mother’s side, Wells Abbott, was a 1922 UA graduate, and the family’s first connection to the university.
Colavito and her brother, Paul Gissel, grew up Wildcats at heart, Phoenix upbringing aside.
“I always liked Tucson, and I guess in the back of your mind, when you grow up hearing about the UA, you believe a lot of it,” said Paul Gissel, who earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1968. “It was true, and it just worked out, and I loved going to school down there.”
The family blends athletics with academics and organizes gatherings around UA game days. They have connections to Greek Life, track, cycling and other facets of Wildcat life. They often make Thanksgiving plans based on where the Wildcats will play.
It’s how they do things.
Before attending UA football games with his parents as a 7- or 8-year-old, Jon Colavito, 30, remembers watching games at home with his grandmother, his parents returning late at night. A 2007 grad, he now lives in downtown Phoenix, where “it’s tough to be a Wildcat.”
The Gissels, longtime UA season ticket-holders, have always commuted from Phoenix to tailgate and catch up with the family.
“My cousins would come down from Phoenix,” said Joan Gissel Colavito’s 33-year-old daughter, Kelly Palmour, who still lives near the UA campus. “I’m not sure what grade — third or fourth grade — we started going to the games with them, and I didn’t understand sports. I played, and it was more the experience of wearing the shirts and cheering and seeing friends.”
About six years ago, the family transformed a Volkswagen Transporter into “ ‘Pimp My Ride,’ UA style,” according to Joan Gissel Colavito’s niece, Skylar Colavito. A large blue banner — dedicated to the “Old Blue Crew” — bears the names of the family alumni with the years they graduated.
“My dad would be so proud,” Joan Gissel Colavito said. “He had no clue that any of his grandchildren were going to attend the UA.”
They even passed that passion on to Skylar Colavito, the niece of Joan Gissel Colavito’s husband, James, a University of New Mexico alum.
The 25-year-old visited her aunt and uncle for the first time as a fifth-grader who was barely able to read and write, as she remembers it. Her uncle, James Colavito — who had transferred his allegiance to the Wildcats — took her on campus and encouraged her to consider the school someday.
“I said, ‘Where’s the law school? … That’s where I’m going to go,’ ” Skylar Colavito said.
She would spend future summers as a teen with the Colavitos, jumping between relatives’ homes, while her mother was in Tennessee unable to care for her. As an 18-year-old, Skylar Colavito received a scholarship to the university and moved into the Maricopa dorm.
In May, she earned her law degree at the University of Arizona.
“All of my cousins went there,” Skylar Colavito said. “My aunt and uncle … they were the first people who talked to me about going to college and said I could go to college. The UA was my home.”