Viking for Life: Justin Gruba

By Frances Badgett

The first in his family to go to college, WWU Accounting alumnus Justin Gruba (’07) didn’t really intend on being a mascot for WWU. In fact, it hadn’t even occurred to him. He came to Western not sure about what he was looking for in a college but fell in love with his intro to accounting courses. Today, he’s the managing director at accounting giant KPMG.

“Western has a lot of opportunities for students and it’s small enough that you can really stand out.”

But Gruba isn’t a showy person. He’s a soft-spoken quiet introvert. It just so happens that in 2004 he was also Victor E. Viking.

“Being a mascot wasn’t something I was intentional about doing. The mascot back then was one of those giant blowy inflatable suits before those were everywhere. This was the first one I had ever seen. I mentioned to my roommate that I thought it was cool.”

His roommate had a friend who was Victor E. Viking and didn’t like the experience. They quit and the athletics department hunted for a new Victor. Gruba’s roommate told athletics Gruba would be interested.

“They called me and said, ‘We understand you might be interested…’ and I was like ‘Uh, no.’”

They persuaded him to come to a game that night and just try it out.

“I didn’t have any training and being a mascot is not really my personality. But they said to just try it. ‘Hey, you can’t get fired.’ So I tried it.”

And he had a great time. The suit’s arms could be retracted and inflated; the head could be pulled in and popped out; interactions with fans were positive. And Gruba got to be the quiet man behind the crowd-hyping alter-ego.

“It was so much fun.”

In Victor mascot lore, it’s commonly understood that whoever inhabits Victor’s suit keeps it a secret.

“I guess people keep it a secret, but I told people. It’s just that no one believed me.”

As a mascot, he got to appear in games at Lumen Field and Climate Pledge arena for football games. These are some of his favorite Western memories. He and his best friends from Edens are still all close friends 20 years later.

Gruba has maintained his mascot status. His current employer, KPMG, is a major international accounting firm and their mascot is a kangaroo. The kangaroo appears at their community events like concerts, community events, and more. He appeared at the 2018 Special Olympics, and is a regular feature for Read Day, a day celebrating literacy.  

“I considered becoming a professional mascot, but I didn’t have the same drive as some of the others. I like accounting.”

In addition to all the support he’s given Western, Gruba has established the Spirit Scholarship to help other Victors and students of all interests succeed at Western.

“This scholarship is open to everyone. My employer does a match, and the requirements are widely achievable. I want to help someone who maybe doesn’t get a lot of other support.”

Gruba also gives back by volunteering as a professional advisor on the Accounting Department Advisory Board.

“It’s a great way to stay involved for what doesn’t feel like too much of a commitment. I love to help the program be the best it can be so it prepares students for their careers. It’s mutually beneficial, full circle process—students are well prepared and well educated and we get to hire them when they graduate.”

As for Gruba, keep an eye out for that KPMG kangaroo and give him a high five for paying it forward to Western’s students.