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125 Years of the University of Wisconsin Band

While the Wisconsin Alumni Association celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2011, the University of Wisconsin Band is marking a milestone of its own: 125 years of providing the soundtrack of school spirit for students, alumni and fans. In honor of the UW Band and its thousands of alumni, we take a look back at the beginnings of the organization, from a strict military regiment to the flash and fun of today’s members.

Wendy Krause Hathaway '04
April 12, 2011

While the Wisconsin Alumni Association celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2011, the University of Wisconsin Band is marking a milestone of its own: 125 years of providing the soundtrack of school spirit for students, alumni and fans. In honor of the UW Band and its thousands of alumni, we take a look back at the beginnings of the organization, from a strict military regiment to the flash and fun of today's members.

Tour of the West:  University of Wisconsin Band Travels 7,000 Miles on First Official Tour

In the summer of 1915, around 60 University of Wisconsin Regiment Band members hopped on board a train bound for California on its first official organized tour. Between June 16 and July 31, the band visited 20 cities in the western United States, and ended their trip at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a year-long worlds fair held in San Francisco to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal.

Those Badger musicians spent their first three weeks playing several cities in a row, stopping for a single performance before moving along. The band spent three days in Missoula, Mont., where members were asked to play beneath the window of a dying man from Wisconsin, who said he wanted to hear "On, Wisconsin" one final time. The band obliged, taking up their instruments not once, but twice, to grant the alum's dying wish. They also played for one full week in Spokane, Wash., and marched in three straight days of parade performances with a local Shriners' group in Seattle.

The cost of the tour totaled $11,000 for transportation, food, lodging, and publicity, and was funded mostly by the band members and the Board of Regents. The band earned an additional $6,000 playing for crowds in San Francisco.

The band's director, Charles Mann 1869, called the trip a triumph, and recalled how his members made headlines along the way. "Musically the trip was a decided success. At least that is the impression one would get from the comments of the newspaper which always gave the band the highest praise," Mann wrote in the Wisconsin Alumni Magazine. "Such phrases as, The finest band that has ever been heard in the city;' The best University band in the country;' or This band compares favorably with the big professional bands,' written in the most sincere manner, gives the idea that the band was well received."

The reception of the band by UW alumni and the public was described as magnanimous. "It would have been impossible to have given warmer welcome, heartier co-operation, and more thoughtful consideration than that accorded the members and officers of the band wherever they made an appearance."

band_paul-bunyan-drumUW Band Celebrates Golden Anniversary at 1935 Homecoming

In February 2011, the University of Wisconsin band kicked off a year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary, with a performance and cake at Memorial Unions Great Hall.

And back in 1935, thousands of UW alumni returned to campus to commemorate that year's Homecoming, which was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Wisconsin band. Paul Bunyan served as the theme for that year's Homecoming theme, the same year the Appleton, Wis., Elks Lodge presented a massive drum as a birthday gift to the band. As written in the November 1935 issue of Wisconsin Alumni Magazine, "Northwoods folklore said the drum was presented to Paul Bunyan by the Chippewa Indians as a token of their esteem. Not having suitable beating weapons, Paul whittled down two pine trees to use as drum sticks." The drum was 19-feet in circumference and was carried by the band into Camp Randall through the 1950s, when it began to fall apart.

Hundreds of former Badger band members celebrated the anniversary together that weekend with a dinner and special concert, and a performance at the Wisconsin-Purdue football game, where the Elks presented the brand with its new drum.

1952 "Bucks for the Band" Campaign Huge Success UW Alumni and Friends Dig Deep, Raise $56,000 for Rose Bowl Tour

Many hands pitched in on the "Bucks for the Band" drive, and here WAA Executive Secretary John Berge '22 watched band members help with the mailing of 18,000 appeals for alumni support. All who did contribute to the fund received thank you cards from the Alumni Association.
Many hands pitched in on the "Bucks for the Band" drive, and here WAA Executive Secretary John Berge '22 watched band members help with the mailing of 18,000 appeals for alumni support. All who did contribute to the fund received thank you cards from the Alumni Association.

"The next time someone tells you that Wisconsin Spirit isn't as potent as it was in the 'good old days,' please tell him how Wisconsin alumni and friends raised more than $54,000 to send the band to the Rose Bowl."
John Berge '22, WAA Executive Secretary, January 1953

John Berge '22, WAA Executive Secretary, January 1953

University of Wisconsin alumni are part of a long tradition of philanthropy and support for their alma mater dating back to the founding of the Wisconsin Alumni Association in 1861. In the winter of 1952, a call for help from the university band stirred the souls of Badgers across the country, who joined forces for a fund-raising campaign that generated thousands of contributions in just a few short weeks.

The Badgers received an invitation in late November to play in the Rose Bowl, but at a cost of around $50,000, it looked doubtful the marching band would be able to join the football team. An active Milwaukee-area alum named Abner Heald '25 took charge, coming aboard as chairman of a fund-raising committee to send the band to the bowl game.

"The whole state of Wisconsin was galvanized into action," Berge wrote in the January 1953 edition of Wisconsin Alumni Magazine. "Within a week or so, the outcome was hardly in doubt, by Dec. 7 the halfway mark was reached, and on Dec. 22, the Alumni Association office received the dollar that sent the drive over the top."

The contributions came pouring in from alumni all over Wisconsin and beyond. The program director of radio station WEAU in Eau Claire suspended his schedule for hours one night to ask listeners for
pledges. "The response was spontaneous," he recalled. "Our phones began to ring at a rate we could hardly believe. Many listeners who could not reach us by phone came to our studios with their 'Bucks.'" By the end of WEAU's drive, over 1,200 Badger boosters had pledged a total of $2,068. As one Chippewa Falls alumnus said at the time, "When that Wisconsin band goes out to play in the Rose Bowl, it won't be just another school band. Every Wisconsin citizen who hears "On, Wisconsin" over the air on New Year's will say 'That's our band.'"

The St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch kicked in $2,220, and Schlitz Brewing Company donated $5,000. Smaller contributions by individuals came pouring in, as well. In Clintonville, Wis., one restaurant offered a free cup of coffee to donors who put in one dollar or more. In Lake Mills, fans passed the hat at a mens club meeting and collected $67.71. Peter Wick '20 from Milwaukee mailed a contribution to WAA, writing "Here are a couple of bucks for the band from a father and son, both alumni. My son, Marvin '51, who is with the army in Korea, joins me in doing our bit to have a good Wisconsin band at the Rose Bowl."

The UW Band in the Rose Bowl in traditional W formation Wisconsin Alumni Magazine, January 1953
The UW Band in the Rose Bowl in traditional W formation (Wisconsin Alumni Magazine, January 1953)

All told, the "Bucks for the Band" campaign raised just over $56,025, and members of the marching band hit the road for Pasadena on Christmas Day 1952.

Thanks to a healthy surplus of contributions that winter, WAA was able to make two additional gifts to the band. Funds were used to pay for the filming and production of a movie about the Rose Bowl adventure, and for a new look for the band members. WAA commissioned 175 new uniforms from a Madison-based clothing firm, which were described as "colorfully spectacular ... with blue coats and pants, complemented by white shirts, red ties, chrome buckles and buttons, red cuffs with a white W gleaming through, and black shoes with white spats."

In a thank you note from band director Ray Dvorak to the supporters who gave generously during the holiday season, he wrote "Thank you fifty-thousand times from the University of Wisconsin's band and its director ... The band, you may rest assured, will do everything in its power to measure up to your confidence."

University Band Alum Reflects on 125 Years of Traditions, Friendships

When you wave your arm during "Varsity," or hang around for the Fifth Quarter, you're taking part in UW band traditions that date back decades, and in some cases, even longer. "To be part of a 125-year-old organization is very special," explains Dean Teofilo '85, current president of the University Band Alumni Association. "When the current band participates in the Rose Bowl parade, for example, we all feel a part of that, no matter how long ago we marched."

While the Wisconsin Alumni Association celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2011, the University of Wisconsin Band is marking a milestone of its own: 125 years of providing the soundtrack of school spirit for students, alumni and fans.

Teofilo played trombone in his high school band, but when he arrived as a freshman at UW-Madison in 1980, he wasn't even sure he wanted to participate. "My father suggested I try it, as he had been to games at UW, and was impressed with the band," Teofilo recalls. "He said if I didn't like it, I could always quit. I went to the first rehearsal at Camp Randall during registration week, and the band blew me away. To say they were good is an understatement."

Teofilo played trombone as an alternate his freshman year, never looked back, marching in every game the rest of his college career. At his first game in 1981, the UW football team scored a victory over Michigan, who was ranked No. 1 in the country at that time. "I never saw so many adults in my life with tears in their eyes," Teofilo says, "including Leckrone [Mike, director of the UW Band] though he'll probably never admit it."

The marching band performing during the Fifth Quarter celebration, 1999. According to tradition, their hats are backward representing a look back at a victory. Photo courtesy UW-Madison Archives, University of Wisconsin Collection
The marching band performing during the Fifth Quarter celebration, 1999. According to tradition, their hats are backward representing a look back at a victory. Photo courtesy UW-Madison Archives, University of Wisconsin Collection

When he reminisces about his time playing with the UW band, many fond memories spring to mind. "That same year [1981], the Badgers played in the Garden State Bowl, the first bowl game UW went to in almost 20 years," Teofilo says. "We traveled to New York, played in the courtyard of the World Trade Center, and marched in the Meadowlands." The following year, the band played at Milwaukee's County Stadium at one of the Brewers' World Series games, and in 1983, the pep band made for North Dakota, where the UW Hockey Team ended up winning the NCAA Championship.

Teofilo, who now lives and works in Milwaukee at an investment management firm, began volunteering with the alumni band organization shortly after graduation, planning events and serving on the board, before being elected president. "I stay involved because I got a lot out of participating in the band," Teofilo says. "I want to give back to the current band, and help them out like I know alumni helped me out while I participated."

And the chance to stay connected with Badger band members from all generations is something special for Teofilo. "I have had the opportunity to meet alums from all eras, those who marched with the legendary Ray Dvorak, to the most recent grads who participated in Rose Bowls. I consider many alums who I never marched with to be some of my best friends. And, it's the most fun group of people I know."

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