Incredible stories of APU’s rock leave the school relentlessly hoping for its return.
A year ago, I covered Azusa Pacific’s football team alumni reunion. In preparation for the interviews, I spent hours studying the game — all just to talk about a rock for 20 minutes.
I’ll never forget football alum Greg Grandall, who graduated from APU in 1982, calling over a group of guys to discuss a rock. I soon found myself surrounded by a growing crowd of football players and their wives, all of whom couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of the famed Azusa Pacific rock.
Most believe the tradition of the rock began in 1967 when the school was gifted a 500-pound granite stone with the words “Azusa Pacific College” chiseled on it. Reportedly, a student figured out the rock wasn’t cemented down, which resulted in its disappearance.
Thus began the most epic game of hide-and-seek. For decades, sports teams, choirs, clubs and individuals stole and hid the rock. Conner Chick, a senior history major, filled me in on the rules. For starters, once the rock was stolen, it had to be shown at least once a year — the football team told me three times, but other sources say differently. Additionally, a portion of the stone’s inscription had to be visible at all times.
Junior biblical studies major Charlie Max, who has teamed up with Chick to find the rock, said, “To my knowledge there’s no tradition as enshrined in glory as the rock at APU.”
I saw proof of this with the football team. Forty years had passed since their graduation, and the rock was the first thing they brought up.
The stories they told explained why the rock was so special. One player recounted the time a graduate student got tired of the rock and buried it on prison property. Grandall talked about how he hid it at his teammate’s parent’s house. Shortly after, the house was ransacked. “I mean you could’ve gone to jail,” Grandall said.
Grandall’s wife remembers being newlyweds living in student married housing where they were hiding the rock under a blanket and lampstand. One night, when the newlyweds were half asleep, Grandall’s teammates broke into their room and stole the rock. “That’s how important it was,” Grandall said.
The team all quieted for the most glorified tale of all. Some say it happened at graduation, others say it was during half-time at a football game. Nobody, however, has forgotten the rest of the details.
It was a normal evening, with an audience seated in the stands, when, all of a sudden, the student body looked up and saw a helicopter descending with the rock dangling by a cable. The helicopter touched down to make its yearly required appearance and took off.
“All these people, well mostly guys, ran to their cars and were trying to follow where the helicopter was going,” Grandall said. Max said that there are rumors this resulted in a car chase in Glendora.
However, the rock represented so much more than light-hearted crime. To its receiver, it bestowed a purpose, which is why Grandall will never forget the day the rock found him.
Grandall was driving with some of his friends when they looked down, and there it was where they least expected to find it: in a ditch. He suspects somebody lost the rock out of the back of their truck while driving through the mountains.
“It was just by fate, by God’s grace [that we found the rock]. The Lord wanted us to have it. We were more spiritual than everybody, and so God let us have it,” Grandall said, jokingly.
As much as the rock meant to individuals, it meant even more for the school. To begin with, the rock bonded the five or six people that it took to lift it each time. Additionally, over time the competition brought together the entire school — the choir kids, athletes, student government and everyone in between.
It really was a friendly competition. Chick told me the story of the soccer team who deflated choir alum Don Davis’s tires because they thought he had the rock. Ten years later Davis and the soccer player bonded over this shared experience during a nice lunch.
“It’s so tragic because it’s a thing that literally unites those years, and I’m sure those guys are asking where’s the rock at now,” Max said.
One man supposedly missed the rock so much that he made a life-size replica of it. Unfortunately, though, without the nice granite finish and thick historic roots, it just wasn’t the same.
Where exactly could the original be? Chick described how it probably disappeared at the turn of the millennium. Around this time, he posits the rock most likely was locked in a vault which only four people had the code to.
“But not even the vault could hold the rock … One of the four with the code has to have some information about its disappearance,” Max said.
The search is difficult. Originally the rock was confined to APU’s campus, but the boundaries have expanded to Glendora and even beyond, some say.
Rumors include that the rock was thrown over a pier into the ocean, that it is hidden in the late Jon Wallace’s garden or it is in former APU Athletic Director and head basketball coach Cliff Hamlow’s son’s garage. Hamlow dispelled the latter theory, saying that if he wanted to get rid of the rock, he would have put it in the Hall of Champions. The football alumni told me they can’t tell if that’s the truth or if he’s just a good liar.
Chick has his own theory that the rock could just be hidden really well, perhaps under a pile of dirt. However, no matter what, Chick and Max agree they will go to the ends of the earth to find it if necessary.
The two are asking students, alumni and anyone who knows anything about the rock’s location to start the tradition again. Chick suggests that if the rock’s caretaker is out there, they should hide it again or inform a student of its location.
“The rock has been so much of our past that it’s even uniting APU alumni and students generations apart,” said Max. “This is the kind of thing that makes APU APU … that can really increase school pride. Plus, if it returned for the 125th year of APU, that would just be nuts.”
Truly, it is a little sad to listen to the football team talk about the rock. Intermingled within their rock talk is how much they loved going to school here; It just feels like APU is not the same without its rock. I, for one, now understand why Max and Chick will not give up until it’s returned.