In 1861, Charles T. Wakeley, one of the first 20 students to attend the University of Wisconsin in 1849 and one of the first two men to graduate five years later, founded the Wisconsin Alumni Association. The Civil War had just begun, and the university was having financial and administrative difficulties. So Wakeley brought together the university’s 40 alumni to keep alive the spirit of loyalty to their tottering alma mater at a dinner held on the evening of commencement ceremonies on June 26, 1861.
“Our Alma Mater. Long may she live and flourish the pride and ornament of State, an honour to herself and the cause of education. May her memory be fresh in the hearts of her foster sons.”James M. Flower 1856, MA’1859
The following year, alumni, faculty, regents and friends met for the first alumni dinner was held at the Capital House, toasting to the university and remembering those who had given their lives in the Civil War. In 1898, alumni in Milwaukee convened at Hotel Pfister for the first official chapter meeting on record The following year, in 1899, WAA appointed a committee to create The Wisconsin Alumni Magazine, a monthly publication today’s alumni know as On Wisconsin.
WAA has certainly evolved over the years. In that time, WAA’s contributions to the campus have included rallying the alumni leaders who helped create the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in 1925, the UW Foundation in 1945 and the Wisconsin Union, founded in 1907.
In 1967, alumni built the Wisconsin Alumni House, and in the 1970s, WAA became independent from the university.
“Being a UW alum means much more than earning a degree here. It means being part of a tradition of excellence and service. It means being part of a global community that includes inventors, artists, political leaders, and some of the most spirited people on the planet.”Paula Bonner MS’78, WAA President & CEO
Today, WAA continues its innovation to aid the university and its graduates, including programs in lifelong learning; career networking; recognition and awards, such as the Distinguished Alumni Awards and Forward under 40; and publications, such as On Wisconsin and Badger Insider.
The Wisconsin Alumni Association’s mission is to connect the university to its alumni, alumni back to the university, and alumni to each other. Today, we connect, enrich and serve more than 400,000 graduates, and engage alumni through our chapters and contacts in 100 cities around the world.
WAA Leadership Over the Years
Paula Bonner MS’78
Paula Bonner MS’78 is President of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. She became WAA’s president and chief executive officer in January 2000, after serving for eight years as the organization’s associate executive director, chief operating officer and chief financial officer.In leading WAA into the twenty-first century, Paula strives to make the association the university’s central strategic coordinator for alumni relations, the chief conduit through which UW-Madison and its more than 400,000 graduates communicate with each other. Under Paula’s leadership, the Wisconsin Alumni Association continues a strong commitment to reaching alumni around the world.
Gayle Langer ’59
Gayle Langer ’59 was WAA’s executive director from 1989 to 1999. Highlights of her decade of service include establishing the Wisconsin Alumni Student Board, initiating WAA’s diversity and career advising efforts, and leading the campaign to expand the Below Alumni Center. She remains active in WAA and community service.
Arlie Mucks, Jr. ’47
The late Arlie Mucks, Jr. ’47 served as WAA’s executive director from 1962 to 1989. His 25-year tenure saw the creation of the WAA travel program, Badger Huddles®, the Wisconsin Singers and the new Alumni House in 1967. His enthusiasm and passion for the university were legendary.