Larry Lokai, a former Fairborn area resident who now lives in Urbana, has been spreading good will with his alter ego Buckeyeman since 1999, and he recently graced the cover of USA Today’s Weekend magazine.
The story told about “college football’s biggest fanatics” and the cover art featured Lokai’s scarlet-and-gray face paint, two-tone wig and buckeye stripes under his eyes.
Lokai, 72, said he created Buckeyeman by accident in 1999, when he purchased tickets to his alma mater’s rivalry game against the University of Michigan that year. He wore an ostentatious wig and a scarlet jersey at the game, mostly because his seat was right behind the Wolverines’ bench. He kept up the costuming over the years, adding effects and creating a persona, which lacked a name.
He had become friends with Neutron Man, whose real name was Orlas King. He was known for dancing in the stands, especially during the song “Neutron Dance, which earned him the moniker. Lokai created the name Buckeyeman in honor of mascot Brutus the Buckeye and of King.
By the next year, Lokai took part in a national contest to find the loudest college football fans. He was one of the 13 finalists from around the country for the award after placing well in a scream test. Lokai had to present a skit and then scream in order to go on as a finalist. He did the customary O-H-I-O chant, which launched him to the finals. Buckeyeman had become a staple of OSU spirit.
Over the past 16 years, Lokai has spent much of his personal time making visits to OSU, not just for games but participating in freshman orientation programs and campus outings to promote school spirit. He greets fans and distributes buckeyes and buckeye necklaces, which he wears in plenty when he’s in costume.
Lokai still maintains plenty of Greene County ties. He receives most of his buckeyes from the area, and his son, Brad, is a teacher with the Greene County Career Center.
He described Buckeyeman as “a goodwill ambassador for Ohio State” and said he has distributed about 33,000 buckeye necklaces and has given away more than one million single buckeye nuts. He now spends about 100 days of the year on the road, visiting county fairs or attending parades or other events across the state. He even promotes the planting of buckeye trees, the official state tree.
He also spends “about 50 days each year” working as a poultry judge at county fairs. Lokai also works in classrooms with his son, Brad, and the former Urbana city councilman also does about 8-10 speaking engagements each year.
“This probably sounds weird, but the most fun I have in being Buckeyeman is when I talk to little kids in elementary school programs, or when I meet senior citizens at nursing homes,” Lokai said. “The reciprocal part of that is the response you see from the elderly. They’re in the very last stages of their lives … and you can truly tell that they appreciate me being there to bring a smile to their faces.”
Lokai said he is glad to give his time to promote The Ohio State University, because he got a great education there as a student and the university’s prestige secured a good job for him and a retirement plan that makes his self-declared ambassadorship possible.
He said he “better be on my A-game” when representing the university and he offered a humble thank-you to all the fans that cheer on the beloved university’s football team.
More information about Buckeyeman can be found at OSUbuckeyeman.com or at Facebook.com/OSUBUCKEYEMAN
(Lee Jones writes for the Urbana Daily Citizen. He can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1774 or on Twitter @UDCJones. Sports editor John Bombatch contributed to this story.)