By Linda Wilkins
Assistant City Editor
A bear stands resolute in the front yard of retired Baylor professor and alum Dr. Richard “Dick” Couey.
However, it’s not alive. It’s wooden. When a 400-year-old tree in his front yard began to die, Couey said he tried several treatments to save it. In life, the oak tree was more than 100 feet tall, with limbs that stretched over the Coueys’ house and the street, which is not too far from Floyd Casey Stadium.
“It was a beautiful, majestic-looking live oak tree, and I value trees,” Couey said. “It died, and it just broke my heart.”
Couey’s wife first suggested making the tree into a carving.
“Elray said she saw some animals carved into trees in Yellowstone, but she didn’t say bear,” Couey said. “That’s when I got the idea to make a bear out of it. I could save some of the wood from the tree, and then she wanted a table. So we made a table and a bear.”
Couey said his wife changed her mind at one point because she decided the bear would look terrible in the yard, but Couey stood firm.
Sept. 13, the weekend of the Sam Houston State game in Waco, a carver named Hugo Prisciliano began working on the carving.
“He said, ‘There’s a bear in that tree and I’m going to get him out,’” Dick Couey said.
The carving process brought traffic and spectators to his street. Dick Couey said while the bear was being carved, traffic jams almost occurred several times, and often people stopped to watch the carving develop.
Their son, Paul Couey, also a Baylor graduate, said, “I was watching all of the neighbors come out, watching him and sitting in the grass. It was a game day that day and people were wearing Baylor gear and driving by on their way to the game.”
Prisiliano worked on the carving for three days, starting with a chainsaw.
“I didn’t really realize it would have this notoriety,” Dick Couey said. “I thought it was just for the kids in the neighborhood and it’d be kind of cute.”
Though the bear currently holds a sign that reads ‘Sic ‘Em,’ Elray Couey, wife of Dick Couey, said there are nails on the sign, so other signs for Thanksgiving or Christmas can be added with the changing seasons.
The Coueys’s bear represents a school loyalty hewn over many decades.
While at Baylor, Dick Couey played pitcher on the Baylor baseball team and graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s of religion.
Elray Couey said she attended Sam Houston State University, which was then Sam Houston Teachers College, and she met Dick Couey when he was playing baseball against Sam Houston State. She taught school for 29 years and retired in 1998.
After graduating from Baylor, Dick Couey attended Texas A&M and earned his doctorate in physiology.
“I became an exercise physiologist and I came to Baylor to teach in 1970,” Dick Couey said. Couey said he taught physiology, nutrition, anatomy and research, but he also participated in a variety of activities on campus – everything from sponsoring new organizations at Baylor to helping to coach the team he once played for.
In 1974, Mickey Sullivan, who was the head baseball coach, asked Couey to help coach his defense. Couey coached the pitchers for five years, and during that time, the baseball team went to the World Series two consecutive years. Couey said the team won over 200 games in five years.
“But then, I just couldn’t do it,” Couey said. “I was teaching classes, and I just couldn’t do baseball anymore. It was too much time.”
After he stopped coaching, Couey began writing books. His name is on at least 30 books as a co-author, author and revising author.
Couey also began speaking in churches about how staying healthy can be spiritually motivated.
“I’ve had the opportunity to speak in well over 300 to 400 churches,” Couey said. He continues to speak at churches and lecture at medical conventions.
Dick Couey started Phi Kappa Chi, a Christian service fraternity at Baylor, and he worked with them until he retired. The fraternity now has an award in Dick Couey’s honor, called the Richard Couey Award for Excellence which is given to an outstanding professor each year. The Coueys also sponsored Chi Omega for over 42 years, which was then a Baylor organization called Pi Alpha Lambda. Chi Omega is a sorority at Baylor.
Though Couey retired from teaching in 2007, he is still a Bear at heart.
That much is apparent from his lawn.