“I just backed into a Rhino”

The cover of the Fall 2016 Lynchburg College magazine might surprise some recipients. Why are they staring a rhinoceros in the face? And why on the cover of their alma mater’s magazine?


The short story is: 50 years ago a Lynchburg College graduate went on a safari in Africa and donated a bunch of his big game hunting trophies to the college. After years in a basement, this rhino was very dilapidated, but a recent graduate who is a taxidermist repaired the creature last year. In the process, he discovered the fascinating story of the original hunter, who was from his hometown.

The long story…You’ll have to read it. Here.

Desi Justis ’86, ’95 MEd, the science resources manager, told me about the rhino when Nick Shelton ’14 returned it upon finishing the repairs. I knew at once that it was a neat story. Months passed, but finally I was ready to see the rhino, which was then in storage while Desi worked to figure out a permanent home for it. I was impressed with the incredible touch that Nick had applied to restoring beauty to the creature.

I first met the rhino in a storage closet, where it sat on the table. From its shoulders to the horn it is about four feet. Here I climbed a ladder for a rhino selfie.

I first met the rhino in a storage closet, where it sat on the table. From its shoulders to the horn it is about four feet. Here I climbed a ladder for a rhino selfie.

Then Desi gave me all the papers she had about the rhinoceros and Frank Bennett ’32, the alumnus who had hunted the rhino. Then I interviewed both of Frank’s daughters. The more I learned about Frank and his wife, Del, the more I stood in awe. They both grew up in rural, poor communities. Frank had to hunt to put food on his family’s table. They graduated from LC during the depths of the Great Depression. Their education unlocked the door to successful lives of great adventure.

We wanted to capture a dramatic image of the rhinoceros, so we arranged to have the trophy hung in the College Communications and Marketing office one day over the summer.


John McCormick, our talented photographer, hung black paper behind the rhino and then came in at night, when no natural light would be coming into the building. He set up lighting to capture some incredible photos of the rhino.

For months, we thought this “three-quarter” view would be the magazine cover, until Chris Peterson decided to put the straight-on shot on the cover. We liked it too much to ask him to try a different one. Still, this shot is incredible.

The rhino, whom I named Rocksteady, lived in CCM for several weeks. This made for quite a conversation starter. Many people who walked in were startled and even scared by the sight. I can’t blame them.

One day I was moving a table in preparation for a meeting when I felt a rhino horn up against my back. “I just backed into a rhino!” I said, for my first and probably last time ever.

That is the story of how a rhinoceros came to hang on my office wall for half a summer and how the rhinoceros appeared on the cover of the Lynchburg College magazine.

There is another side of the story: Did this selection of the story and the cover image celebrate or glorify big game hunting? More on that in the next BackStory.

Posted in Magazine

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