When hundreds of fans gathered in May at East Side Denton to celebrate the UNT men's basketball team's championship victory at the National Invitation Tournament, the last thing the crowd expected to see was a non-traditionally painted fire truck approaching.
But this engine wasn't there to put out any fires. It was there to serve as the glowing green chariot carrying the team of champions past the roaring crowd.
Among those in the crowd was Diann Rozell Huber ('76 M.B.A., '01 Ed.D.), beaming then, and ever since, as the verdant fire engine rolled through, boasting a painted UNT Battle Flag, the words "Mean Green" emblazoned on all sides and a large silver bell above the front right bumper.
For Huber, a lifelong basketball fan and a supporter of UNT's men's team, the evening served as the culmination of years of efforts.
"It was a wonderful day to be on the Denton Square and then turn over by East Side and see all of the people who came out, not only to support the basketball team, but to bring Denton and UNT together through the fire truck," Huber says. "It was wonderful."
Huber, an influential force in making the Mean Green fire truck a reality through heartfelt determination as well as a monetary gift, says early talks about the truck began about four years ago. The idea didn't gain much traction until 2022, when she met with UNT President Neal Smatresk and, later, the Denton fire chief and shared her vision.
"I can probably confirm they thought I was crazy," she says with a laugh. "Because I said, ‘When UNT has a national championship basketball team next year, we want them to ride on a fire truck in a parade.'"
And it seems she spoke it into existence right then and there. After the meeting, Huber says they reached an agreement and began the planning phase for the custom truck, designing it down to the mud flaps.
As for securing the fire engine itself, Huber had a connection in her son, Denton Fire Department Captain Clay Rozell, and says everything aligned perfectly. Denton Fire Station No. 3, which serves UNT, already was set to receive a new fire truck, leaving the existing one fair game for use. So, they proceeded to the design phase.
"We met at Station No. 1 with the firm that makes the fire trucks and they started showing us color chips and what we could do, what the flag would look like, what the grill would look like," Huber says. "We got to look at all different scenarios, the most important being that the eagle was the UNT eagle and that the green was the UNT green."
Another detail on the truck is the logo for Denton Fire Station No. 3, which is nicknamed "The Nuthouse" and features an all-white squirrel in honor of UNT's famous on-campus albino squirrel, Lucky.
Leading up to the custom fire truck's Denton debut, Huber says details were literally kept in the dark.
"In Wisconsin, where the truck was manufactured, it was kept behind curtains so that as other fire departments came to tour the facility, they didn't see our Mean Green fire truck. Then it was brought to Denton in the dark of night, so no one would see it, and it was hidden in a special place until the chief had it come out. It was really an unveiling to all of Denton."
Huber used the knowledge she gained from her UNT degrees to launch iTeach, an alternative online teaching certification program, in 2003 as a way to remove certain barriers for those entering the profession. With three of her four sons and two daughters-in-law also attending UNT along the way, the family has a strong connection to the university.
"Being here in a town where UNT is such a presence, being successful in my career from what I learned at UNT and getting all that instructional knowledge, I felt like it was time to share and give back to the university that helped prepare me as a businesswoman and become who I am today," she says.
While Mean Green fans will have ample opportunities to see the fully functioning Mean Green fire truck up close at UNT Athletics events this season, Huber is especially giddy about the fall launch of miniature Mean Green fire trucks, available at the DATCU Stadium Team Store and Voertman's, with additional fire truck merchandise available at the UNT Union Barnes & Noble.
The exact-replica miniatures were another idea Huber championed, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Denton Firefighters Association.
"It's a great gift, but I wanted to make sure the firefighters association reaped some benefits from this because they're giving to our community all the time. Anyone who buys a truck is not just supporting UNT, they're supporting our local first responders, and I think that's another wonderful tie between our city and school."