In 1861, Charles Wakeley — one of the first 20 students to attend the nascent University of Wisconsin in 1849 and one of the first two men to graduate five years later — founded the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) in 1861. The Civil War had just begun, and the university was having financial and administrative difficulties. Wakeley brought together the university’s 40 alumni to keep alive the spirit of loyalty to their tottering alma mater. They gathered at a dinner held on June 26, 1861: the evening of the 1861 commencement ceremony.
The following year, alumni, faculty, regents, and friends met for the first all-alumni dinner. Held at the Capital House, it served to toast the university and 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 that today’s alumni know as On Wisconsin.
WAA has certainly evolved over the years. Since its inception, WAA’s contributions to the campus have included rallying the alumni leaders who helped to create the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in 1925 and the UW Foundation in 1945, and to found the Wisconsin Union in 1907.
In 1967, alumni built the Wisconsin Alumni House, and in the 1970s, WAA became independent from the university.
In 2014, WAA merged with the UW Foundation, and today both are divisions of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association. WAA continues its innovation to aid the university and its graduates, hosting programs in lifelong learning; career networking; recognition, such as the Distinguished Alumni Awards and the Forward under 40 Awards; and print and electronic publications, including On Wisconsin, the Flamingle, 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 it connects, enriches, and serves more than 400,000 graduates and engages alumni through chapters and contacts in 100 cities around the world.
WAA Leadership over the Years
Sarah Schutt’s association with WAA began in 2001, when she started helping to develop WAA’s lifelong-learning programs. When WAA merged with the UW Foundation, she became a vice president of alumni relations and engagement, overseeing a wide variety of programs and events. She was elevated to WAA’s executive director in July 2017, and she works to build the UW’s connection with its diverse populations across Wisconsin and around the globe.
Paula Bonner MS’78
Paula Bonner MS’78 was president of the Wisconsin Alumni Association from January 2000 until her retirement in 2017. She previously served the organization for eight years as its associate executive director, chief operating officer, and chief financial officer. In leading WAA into the 21st century, Paula strove to make it the university’s central strategic coordinator for alumni relations: the chief conduit through which UW–Madison and its more than 400,000 graduates communicated with each other. Under Paula’s leadership, the Wisconsin Alumni Association continued a strong commitment to reaching alumni around the world.
Gayle Langer ’83
Gayle Langer ’83 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, the BADGER HUDDLE® tailgate series, the Wisconsin Singers, and the new Alumni House in 1967. His enthusiasm and passion for the university were legendary.