Vickie Blair with 5 Saluki dogs

Vicki Blair in the Student Center lobby with, from left, Ramses, Pharaoh, Isis, Tiy, and Kiya.

June 28, 2013

Community volunteers make a positive difference

Friends and neighbors throughout the region play an important role in the success of our University, including many of you who support SIU by volunteering at campus events.

Each week during the summer, we host an orientation session for incoming freshmen and their parents. As I enter the Student Center to meet and talk with the newest members of the SIU family, Vicki and Jim Blair are in the lobby, providing a proper introduction to all things Saluki. They are among the dedicated Saluki owners who bring their dogs to athletic events and other activities on campus throughout the year.

I enjoy watching and hearing the reactions as our new students and their families stop to talk with Vicki and Jim and pet the dogs.  The Salukis -- Pharaoh, Kiya, Ramses, Tiy and four-month-old Isis -- are incredibly well behaved.

The Blairs started bringing the dogs to campus when Pharaoh and Kiya, both now six years old, were puppies. Vicki and Jim have built strong relationships with fellow Saluki owners and other members of the campus community. Neither Vicki nor Jim is an SIU alum, though daughter Amy Jolly earned her bachelor’s degree here in dental hygiene.

"We just enjoy spending time with the people at SIU and we like having the dogs there,” Vicki said. “We have people who graduated from SIU 40 years ago who say it is the first time they have seen a real Saluki. They take pictures with them because it means so much to them as alums. New students will say, ‘That’s my mascot.’ They buy into it right away; it creates a connection for the students.”

Vicki and Jim appreciate opportunities to share their knowledge about the little-known breed. Her love of the dogs dates to grade school studies of the Middle East, the pharaohs, and their fast, intelligent hunting dogs.

"The pharaohs were so impressed with them that they had them mummified and buried with them,” she said. “When we first moved here, I didn’t know SIU’s mascot was the Saluki. Sometimes it’s just karma.”

They take their volunteer efforts seriously. Along with packing up five dogs, Vicki and Jim make sure they have all the necessities, such as treats and water – “just like packing up the kids,” Vicki said with a laugh. At orientation sessions for new students, they stay for a couple of hours. At other events, such as open houses for prospective students, they stay “however long we are needed,” Vicki said.

"People feel so good when they see the dogs and pet them,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see people with a smile or asking a question. The dogs are so used to it that they truly believe they belong at SIU. We enjoy feeling as though we are part of the University and that people there think enough of us to invite us to bring the dogs. We have a deep affection for this area, so it’s nice to give back to the community.”

Our many volunteers -- including Vicki and Jim and Pharaoh, Kiya, Ramses, Tiy and Isis -- make a very positive difference for our University.