Flushing Out the Truth About One of UMobile’s Greatest Pranks: The Foundation Head

One of

UMobile’s

Greatest Pranks!

It was one of those rare brisk mornings in south Alabama, where your breath fogged in the cold and you debated whether walking quickly to class would warm you up or create just enough of a breeze to give your nose frostbite.

You had to make the trek between Weaver and Martin, and you braced yourself to walk by the fountain, knowing the spray of water would be icy. The sun was so bright that day, and the sky so blue, that you still remember, 13 years later, how the reflection off the gleaming white porcelain toilet nearly blinded you.

You stopped. Because, on this day that you will one day tell your kids about, there is a toilet on top of the fountain at the University of Mobile.

Best Pranks Ever

It happened at some point during your college career, whether you were a student at Mobile College in the 1960s, a member of the latest graduating class of 2013, or on campus any of the years in between. Someone – maybe you – pulled the all-time best college prank ever.

Perhaps it involved crickets, or furniture arranged on a rooftop, or a car parked on the front steps of Weaver Hall. Possibly it involved a professor; probably it involved your friends. How you did it, who helped, and what happened next became the stories of your youth. Sometimes they are the stories you tell your children; sometimes they are stories you hope your kids don’t find out because, surely, they wouldn’t do something so crazy and stupid.

The Legend of the Overflowing Toilet

It took about 13 years and a query on the University of Mobile Alumni Facebook page asking for photos of the toilet prank for the participants to agree the time had come to reveal all.

“The funnest part for us has been that no one has ever known who did it,” said Matt Wilson ’02.

“Any time you can pull something off and keep it secret, the legend grows,” added Josh Jones ’02.

Matt, now executive director of First Priority of Alabama, and Josh, who sells surgical robots for Intuitive Surgical, both live in the Birmingham area. Each has one photo of the night the toilet made it to the top of the fountain, with the help of fellow student Alan Castleberry who attended UMobile for two years. Steve Jenks ’02 took the photos with a disposable camera.

“I was called to come there specifically to take pictures, and that’s what I did,” Steve said. His hand, he said, never touched porcelain.

“I really can’t take credit for (the toilet prank), but I can take credit for being there when it happened. I felt very honored to be the guy holding the camera,” said Steve, now youth pastor at Tompkins Baptist Church in Grove Hill, AL.

Josh’s photo, the one they all agree is the best, is usually pinned to his home office bulletin board but is packed away right now as his family is in the process of moving. Matt’s photo, pictured here, shows the young men at the moment of triumph – drinking soft drinks, he is quick to point out.

Despite an extensive search in the UMobile archives, a photo of The Fountain Head could not be located. Until one surfaces from an alumnus who captured a shot in the days before cell phones had cameras, memories are all that are left.

But that’s okay. Unlike printed photos which can fade with time, imprinted memories of a successful prank only get better as they age.

Anatomy of a Prank

It happened one night around 1999 or 2000 – the timeframe is a bit foggy. It was a cold night, and Matt and Alan drove to the trailer park where Josh lived off-campus in a 26-foot travel trailer.

Josh’s neighbor had piled up trash by the road. Sitting in the trash, ready to be hauled off, was an ancient, heavy, white porcelain toilet.

“Matt and Alan knocked on the door and said, ‘Have you seen the toilet across the street?’ I said I had, and I was wondering what to do with it ” Tosh recalled.

Here’s what happened next, recounted by the two primary instigators.

Matt: We had no money and nothing to do. I said, “We’ve got to do something with that.”

Josh: It was a full porcelain pony, 100 percent porcelain, heavy, had to be at least 40 years old. It was crystal white. It was a beautiful structure. Literally, we’re standing in my front yard looking across the street and just brainstorming. Do we put it at the (college) entrance, on someone’s car, in someone’s car, change someone’s toilet out with it?

With Alan’s help, they hefted the toilet into Matt’s Jeep Cherokee and drove to campus.

Matt: Our first plan was to get into Martin Hall and somehow get onto the roof and put it on the top corner of the roof. Martin Hall was open -we just couldn’t get to the roof.

Josh: If I remember right, we both had that “Eureka!” moment – the leaking clothespin! It’s got to go on the leaking clothespin!

The fountain sculpture is actually a work by Mobile artist Casey Downing Jr. titled “Sentinal 18 Fountain.”

Josh: We went into Martin Hall and there was a full-sized fellowship table and A-frame ladder. It was a sign from the Lord. Anytime you have a toilet, a fellowship table and an A-frame ladder, the sign can’t get any clearer.

Matt: We had to watch the security guards and time them to see how long we had before they came around again.

Josh: We grabbed the table, took it to the fountain and set it up in the fountain. We put the A-frame ladder on top of the fountain. We got the toilet on top of the table, then Matt and Alan climbed the ladder with the toilet.

Matt: The fountain is taller than you think.

Josh: It was hurtful cold. It was below 32 degrees that night. You touch that water and it hurts your hand.

Matt: We couldn’t find out how to turn the water off, and it was so cold. We finally found it, turned the water off and got the toilet on top.

We turned the water back on and it was coming out of the top of the toilet, which was unexpected and beautiful.

Josh: Just about that time, we got it up there and are admiring our work, and Steve Jenks came strolling along. Jenksy is the one who snapped the pictures.

Matt: About that time, we looked at each other and said we couldn’t tell anyone we did this.

Quickly, avoiding the next patrol of security guard Ms. Lucy, they returned the folding table and ladder to Martin Hall and left the scene, promising to tell no one.

The Fall-Out

The toilet stayed on top of the fountain for several days. It was the talk of the campus. No one could figure out how it got up there, and on a small campus where most anything would be discovered eventually, no one knew for sure who did it.

When the maintenance crew gathered at the fountain with a cherry-picker a few days later, Josh was walking by.

Josh: I’m standing there with the maintenance crew of about four or five guys there. The head guy was shaking his head, saying “I don’t know how we’re going to get this down.”

I said, “Tell you what I would do. I would get a table. Put the table in the fountain. Get a ladder. Put it on top of the table. Climb up the ladder and take the toilet down.”

The guy looked at me and said, “That’ll never work.”

Eventually, the crew used the cherry-picker to push the toilet off the top of the fountain, where it hit the bricks and shattered.

Reflections

Years passed, and fewer than a dozen people knew this story – until today.

“We found out last year from some friends who had moved from Mobile that people on campus were still talking about it,” Matt said.

“That was just such a fun night,” Josh said. “We had such a good time. We were pretty excited about getting the toilet up there without breaking it.”

They agreed to tell their story now because “we figured the statute of limitations had run out,” Josh said. “Literally, we put it up for a vote. When the Facebook piece came out asking who did the toilet, Matt forwarded it to me and said, ‘Do you think the time is right?'”

Matt added, “It’s time for the world to know. I don’t think Dr. Foley can hold our diplomas from us now. I hope he finds this funny.”

In telling their story, the pranksters revealed the “how.”

One question still remains: “Why?”

“The leaking clothespin is such a random, abstract piece of art,” Josh said. “Why not put a toilet on it?”  Matt answered the question of “why” with a question of his own.

“Have you ever met a 20-year-old guy before? I don’t have any explanation for why we would put a toilet on top of the fountain, except we were 20 years old.” 

Sweet Dreams: Bruns Family Tradition Begins in School of Nursing

If you have had surgery in Mobile, chances are that one of the last things you saw before the anesthesia took effect was a member of the Bruns family.

“We always joke that, if nothing else, at least you can sleep at our house” said Cindy Bruns, assistant to the vice president for advancement at the University of Mobile.

Cindy’s family includes five nurse anesthetists, each of whom attended the University of Mobile where they began their career.

Cindy’s husband, John Bruns ’78, started the legacy. Their children, Alex Bruns ’00, Johnathan Bruns ’02, and Maryann Bruns Dean ’04 followed their father’s footsteps. Each graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Their daughter-in-law, Amanda Rouse Bruns ’03, met Johnathan at the University of Mobile while both were in the nursing program.

John wasn’t expecting to start a family tradition when he enrolled at then-Mobile College. He had earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from The Citadel in 1972, then he and Cindy married. After four years serving in the United States Army, John decided to pursue a career in health care and the couple moved to Mobile where Cindy had family.

John completed the associate degree in nursing program, becoming a registered nurse. That education provided him the foundation to pursue additional training as a nurse anesthetist from The School of Anesthesia for Nurses at the University of South Alabama Medical Center.

The University of Mobile’s Christian environment and quality academic program set the stage for the family legacy.

“It is a great honor for us to have graduated from such a highly regarded institution as the University of Mobile,” John said. He said many professors who taught him in 1976, including the late Dr. Rosemary Adams, were teaching his children as they began the nursing program.

“We all received a great education from caring professors that made a difference in our lives” John said.

When oldest son Alex graduated with a B.S.N. in 2000, Cindy took a position in the Admissions Office. From working with students enrolling, watching her own children go through college, and now helping the university stay connected with alumni and donors, she is keenly aware of the value of a University of Mobile education.

“Knowing the foundation of Christian values and principles that have always been a part of this school, and the fact they reflect the values of our family, brings me great pride and satisfaction,” Cindy said. “I know how my children were raised, and I wanted them to be in a place where they would be challenged to grow academically and spiritually. I knew that UMobile was the place for them to experience that.”

The experience paid off.

“We all graduated from UMobile and work in the same field,” said Alex. “The problem comes when the hospital doesn’t know which Bruns to call in at 2 a.m. Yes, it happens all the time.

“It must be in our blood” he continued.

“While growing up with my dad in this profession, I had an idea of what to expect. I knew this career would be challenging and also rewarding to know you are always helping people.” Johnathan agreed.

“I think my road to working in healthcare started as a young boy. I wanted to do what my dad did.” Johnathan said. “As I started college and it was time for me to begin making career decisions, I was given a great piece of advice from my dad: seek employment in a hospital to determine if this area of health care is something you would enjoy. I began my career as an orderly and the rest is history.”

Each family member – including daughter-in-law Amanda – attended the University of Mobile specifically to kick-start their careers in healthcare and enable them to earn further degrees in nurse anesthesia.

“I felt I would be attending a university that cared about its students and I would not be only a number” said Johnathan.” Was right. I’m still in contact with several of my nursing instructors”

Amanda said she has opportunities to work with her husband, father-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law as anesthetists. 

“I do enjoy working with all of them.

I learned a lot from my father-in-law. It was very comforting to have someone you trusted, with as much experience as he has, readily available as a resource, Amanda said.

Maryann added, “I am the baby of the group, so I have been able to work with each of my family members as I was completing my clinical rotation for certified registered nurse anesthesia school. I enjoyed working with everyone, but especially with my dad when I was on my open-heart rotation. He taught me so much and it’s nice for your daddy to have your back.”

With the help of the University of Mobile, the Bruns family comforts patients emotionally and spiritually while also responding to their physical needs.

“The caring attitudes of many of my instructors at UMobile have had a great impact in the way I have taken care of my patients and their families throughout my career thus far,” said Maryann.

“I started off working in the cardiac intensive care unit,” Maryann continued. “A caring touch, voice, and attitude are what these very sick patients and visiting families need. Mrs. Mattie Easter and Mrs. Diane Carithers were amazing examples of that. They each cared for their students and wanted them to do their best, but also went above and beyond for their patients giving them extra special attention and setting an example for us to follow.”

Alex said the encouragement he received from faculty was a vital part of his success.

“My favorite memory is of Mrs. Mattie Easter, assistant professor of nursing and coordinator of nursing admissions. She was my advisor from the beginning of my career at UMobile and has since become a good friend of my mother and whole family. She is a caring and loving part of the nursing program” Alex said.

Johnathan agreed that the compassion and caring of faculty in the School of Nursing set a lasting example for students.

“Working in the healthcare field and especially surgery, I am in contact with people who are experiencing very stressful situations, Johnathan said.”| have a chance to make this experience a little better. I try to do anything to help the patient and family. It may be making them laugh or just taking a few extra minutes to listen to them. I feel making each patient’s day a little brighter can help make a difference.”

Maryann said there is a larger purpose at work in her family’s calling.

“I feel that God has placed us all in the healthcare field for a reason, and I am honored He chose this path for me and our family,” concluded Maryann.

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy is an award-winning media relations director and former journalist whose expertise has enabled the University of Mobile to gain national and regional attention. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Auburn University and worked as a journalist for 12 years, including 10 years at the Mobile Press-Register, earning regional and national awards for coverage of education, deadline reporting and feature writing. She joined the University of Mobile staff in 1993, earning awards for writing and public relations including the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing in 2015 and 2012. She is a charter member of Providence United Methodist Church, serves on the board of the John Will Scholarship Foundation, and is a member of the Public Relations Council of Alabama, Baptist Communicators Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. Kathy lives in Daphne with her husband, Chuck, who earned his M.B.A. from the University of Mobile. They have two children and two grandchildren.