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The University of Wisconsin–Madison has never really had a front door, an obvious entry spot with a “Welcome” mat and a bowl of hard candy on a little table when you walk in. I suspect a great many folks start their visit to the ever-more-sprawling campus at the Memorial Union. But that’s really more like a rec room leading out to the patio and the backyard. Bascom Hall is a kind of elegant grand entry, but the building is primarily offices.
There’s never been a spot where people, especially first timers, begin their visit receiving a warm “Hello, nice to see you. How can I help you?” A place where you get a bit of history and culture, run into fellow visitors, ask for directions and logically proceed to your individual destination. Now there is: One Alumni Place, the home of the Wisconsin Alumni Association and the newly-opened Alumni Park.
It is quite the remodeling job. There’s a new welcome and visitor center—a living room, if you will—at One Alumni Place. There’s a magnificent new sculpture garden and park space. And there’s a new vibe that is warm and classy and Bucky through and through. It’s a place to be inspired by alumni—those who have made a profound difference in the world after graduating from UW–Madison—and to share the excitement and potential of alumni to be.
UW–Madison is a big place with a tremendous variety of programs, activities, colleges, departments and opportunities. It’s easy and understandable for someone to become enmeshed in one’s individual pursuit. But in the end, what is shared is the distinction of being a UW–Madison alum, joining 435,196 living alumni (give or take a few), a distinction that is such a big part of the footprint of the university and a living example of the Wisconsin Idea.
A fair number of those alumni, roughly 4,000, made donations to Alumni Park. It’s a generous gift. And I’ll bet more than a few of those donors were inspired to give by Paula Bonner. Only 17 of Bonner’s 41 years of service to UW–Madison have been spent at the helm of the WAA, but any UW alumni Hall of Fame would have to include Bonner. And while she has overseen growth in both the breadth and reach of WAA, the creation of Alumni Park is her capstone contribution.
Bonner’s vision for the WAA Alumni Park highlights the achievements of nearly 200 alumni, from Earth Day founder and former Wisconsin Gov. Gaylord Nelson to motorcycle namesake William Harley. The alumni will be featured in sculptures and displays throughout the park, along with more than 50 museum-like exhibits. It’s believed to be the first Alumni Park of its kind in the country. Located between the Red Gym and the Memorial Union, the park will host festivals, lectures, workshops and arts and cultural programs, all overseen by the merged WAA and Wisconsin Foundation.
Another highlight will be the Goodspeed Family Pier with public boat slips to make the park and welcome center accessible by land or lake.
UW–Madison has added new buildings, pedestrian thoroughfares, a dramatically remodeled Memorial Union, student housing and more. The last decade or so has seen a serious growth spurt on campus. But the addition of Alumni Park and One Alumni Place feels special. It’s a bridge between the generations of UW alumni and students, the communities they serve and downtown Madison. It’s a visual display of the Wisconsin Idea. And it’s simply beautiful. The grand opening is from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6. Weekend tours and open houses are planned through October and November. Stop by, or discover it on your own. It’s the beginning of a new tradition at UW–Madison.
So, you think you know Wisconsin history? There’s a new exhibit at the Madison Central Library that will challenge that thinking. Madison children’s book author and playwright Philip Heckman has collected “facts and artifacts” arranged in 15 drawers of an antique card catalogue cabinet that present “hitherto unknown historical details,” about “Ouisconsin, the Land of Mumbled Apologies.” It’s clever, it’s smart and it’s hysterical. It’s on display October through January 2018.
My top 10 list of effective, efficient and big-hearted nonprofits in Dane County always includes Rubin For Kids. The all-volunteer organization honors late public defender and children’s advocate Peter Rubin by giving out 25-30 scholarships to Madison College and about $40,000 in small achievement awards to deserving kids. The money comes in large part from the annual fundraiser which is Thursday, Oct. 5 at the Boardman and Clark Atrium at 1 S. Pinckney St. Go to the event or visit rubinforkids.org and send a check. You’ll find it’s a good place for your charitable heart.
Neil Heinen, Editorial Director, email@example.com, @neilheinen