Thousands of UW–Madison alumni and students waited in line for hours on Sept. 28, hoping to take part in an historic event: the first appearance on campus by a sitting U.S. president in more than 60 years.
More than 26,000 people turned out to see President Obama speak at an event on Library Mall, according to University Police. Only around 17,000 were allowed in and another 9,000 were diverted to overflow areas.
Despite a long history of political visits to UW’s campus, many alumni said this event was the largest they had ever seen in Madison and were excited to hear from the president. In anticipation of President Obama’s stop in Madison in September, we asked alumni to share their memories on Facebook of the most famous person to visit while they were on campus. Here’s some of what they had to say:
Many alumni recalled listening to political figures who brought their campaign trail to UW’s campus. Several enjoyed seeing former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore. Kim Steger Jay '93 wrote: “During a big election is a fascinating time to be on a college campus!” Others were excited to see John Kennedy or George McGovern. Susan Ringel Segal '78 remembers that she “threw peanuts at Jimmy Carter when he campaigned.”
More recent graduates had a good time when John Kerry campaigned in downtown Madison. Becky Eckhart '05 wrote: “I'm still jealous of whoever lived in the house that Bruce Springsteen joined them on their porch for a beer during the John Kerry rally.”
Other alumni were more impressed by visitors like the Dalai Lama and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. Jennifer Ancheta remembered a visit from South African activist Desmond Tutu; WAA Member Michele LaPierre Krause recalls “Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden at the Stock Pavilion.”
Probably the most talked-about Hollywood celebrity to spend time in the capital city was Rodney Dangerfield, who shot the film “Back to School” at UW-Madison. Many Badgers reminisced about seeing him as students in the 1980s.
Christopher Collins calls Chris Farley “the only one worth remembering,” while Jeni Erd Martinson ‘96 says she recalls seeing him “shopping at a shoe store on State St.” Amy Gelbman '90 says the most gratifying performance she saw was Sam Kinison; WAA Member Andrew Miller '96 chose the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as his favorite. Others named Robert Shaw, Robert Redford and Natalie Portman.
Several famous authors struck a chord with alumni. Robin Schmoldt '97 saw Kurt Vonnegut twice; others wrote in about John Updike, Barnard Malamud and poet/activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Music has always been an important part of UW-Madison history. Some of the artists who made the most impact on alumni include Bono and U2, Jimi Hendrix and Jethro Tull at the Colliseum, Harry Belafonte, KISS and Steve Miller, who Nancy Wrigglesworth Lee '66 saw “as a fellow student, not famous yet.” Chris Barber said he fondly remembers “Michael Stipe and the rest of the boys at the Stock Pavillion, 83?, and Kurt Cobain recording Nevermind with Nirvana on East Washington.” And WAA Member Margaret Gillerman '74 was exposed to a number of international artists and musicians while working at the Union Theater: “I ushered my first semester and remember hearing the incomparable Andres Segovia and getting so relaxed I fell asleep on the job!”
(Photos of Kerry, Dangerfield and U2 courtesy Wisconsin Badger Yearbook and University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.)