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Beetle Bailey fans meet Mort Walker, the man behind the cartoon

Friday, October 22, 2010 | 9:45 p.m. CDT; updated 9:53 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 22, 2010
Dianne Fendler, who has been a Beetle Bailey reader since she was 10 years old, has her book signed by Mort Walker at the MU Student Center on Friday.

COLUMBIA — In his first visit to MU since 1994, Mort Walker returned to campus Friday to celebrate the dedication of the new Student Center. 

The Student Center Project contacted Walker, the cartoonist of the Beetle Bailey comic strip, to see if he wanted to be involved.

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“He was so excited,” said Michelle Froese, media spokesperson for the MU Student Center.

Walker attended Friday’s Student Center dedication and then held a book signing outside Mort’s, the restaurant that bears his name.

Mort’s features a color sculpture of Beetle by Walker’s son, Neal, who also designed the metal sculpture of Beetle outside the Reynolds Alumni Center. The restaurant is decorated with early drawings of Beetle as well as pieces of the original Shack.

“(Walker has) redrawn some of the old Beetle cartoons so that he is wearing an 'M' sweater,” Froese said.

More than 100 people waited in line to have their books, comics, shirts and even wine bottles signed by Mort Walker.

Mort Walker's appearance attracted students, alumni, faculty and the descendants of campus legends.

Margaret Brady Eastman and her brother, Bill Brady, waited while their grandchildren met Walker. Eastman and Brady are children of Thomas Brady, a former MU dean for whom Brady Commons was named.

“We grew up with Beetle Bailey,” Eastman said.

Brady and Eastman reminisced about their childhood spent on campus. They attended University High School, a K-12 education lab that is now Townsend Hall. Graduate students and professors taught the classes.

“Once we finished our core classes, we could take university classes,” Brady said.

Eastman likened it to a college preparatory, “before there was college prep,” she said.

Brady and Eastman also remembered ROTC parades in Francis Quadrangle, eating at the Shack and playing on the stairs of Jesse Hall.

“They called us the ‘Brady Bunch’ before the TV show,” Eastman said. “We were in Elmer Ellis’ office all the time when we were kids. We grew up on this campus. These are our stomping grounds.”

Neal Walker, who attended the event with his father and other family members, said he was impressed by what he saw at MU.

"The campus has gotten much bigger and better," he said. "With so many kids on campus, it's still very intimate."

Brady and Eastman toured the new Student Center on Thursday. They liked the building and how it unites current students with MU’s history.

“Some people don’t feel connected with their school. And I think promoting school colors and spirit is wonderful. Having gathering places like this, they need to feel like they belong somewhere,” Eastman said.

Eastman called the Student Center “beautiful” and said her father would have approved.

“Our family is very proud to be a part of it. Dad’s looking down on us, and he thinks it’s great,” Eastman said.


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