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A Less Perfect Union

Remembering the old Union South.

John Allen
February 15, 2016

When alumni talk about their favorite memories of campus, the most popular spot they mention is the Union — and almost none of those alumni mean Union South.

Opened 45 years ago next month, Union South was, for grads from the ’70s to the 2000s, the unloved concrete bunker of a building that encouraged denizens of the engineering, medical, and ag campuses to feel like second-class students.

Proposed in the mid 1960s, as the Baby Boom generation was reaching its college years and UW-Madison took in one bumper crop of freshmen after another, Union South struggled to build a following among the student body. Its odd shape (facing onto a non-existent courtyard) and unlovely exterior did little to impress students.

The building’s first cafeterias opened in March 1971, and its grand opening was that November. In 2006, UW-Madison students voted to increase fees to pay to replace the building. The new Union South opened in 2011 to near universal praise.

Still, Old Union South had its loyal followers, some of whom have shared their love with WAA’s Badger Insider magazine over the years.

What should all freshmen do? Get a job at the union, if you can handle it. I made some of the best friends working at Union South.
-William Perry ’91

It was a cold Thursday morning in December 1980 as I entered Union South — not a pretty building, but it provided some good times. Earlier in the week, I had completed my final exam for bowling — not a hard exam, but I did not do well. I averaged a 137 over two games, good enough for a low C. After the exam, the TA told us we would bowl once more, explaining the beer frame in the seventh. I was ready. When the bowling started, I was hot. I did well, including the beer frame, and enjoyed the Miller HiLife. The Miller focused me, and I rolled a 196. Now where was that on Tuesday, when it would have earned me an A? I like beer frames. I like Union South. I loved beer frames in Union South.
-Dave May ’81

I remember getting up early to start boiling brats in large grills at Union South where I worked in food service. Only for a badger game would someone be eating brats first thing in the morning!
-Judy Kramer ’86

My roommates and I were all in the marching band. We lived on Chadbourne a block from the Stadium. We had a balcony on the back of our second-floor duplex. Every game day, in full uniform, we would assemble on the balcony and play “On, Wisconsin” for the neighborhood. We would then walk together and meet the band at Union South for our pregame concert. What a feeling of pride cruising the streets of Madison in full band uniform!
-Rob Tuttrup ’85

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