Campus History

Big Dreams, Big Change


Jim Ehrman ’62, committee member of the Wisconsin Union Directorate Forum, with Martin Luther King, Jr. after King’s lecture at the Union on March 30, 1962. A wrong turn at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport nearly caused King to miss the lecture, but he arrived in time to deliver his speech to a capacity crowd, calling for increased federal support of the civil-rights movement and telling the audience, “We’ve come a long, long way, but we’ve got a long, long way to go.” Courtesy of the Wisconsin Union

The Class of ’62 returns after 50 years of transformation.

Half a century ago, the UW’s Class of ’62 walked across the stage at the Field House on a rainy June day, reflecting on a world in crisis. During the course of their senior year, those students saw the completion of the Berlin Wall, the arrival of the first U.S. military helicopters in Vietnam, rising tensions with Cuba, a demonstration against nuclear weapons testing, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first visit to campus.

“Our generation was really prepared, enthusiastic, and enabled to leave a mark on Madison and the world,” says Dave Zweifel ’62. “We had big dreams. We were optimistic. JFK was president, and there was a lot of enthusiasm for what we could do to help our fellow citizens.”

More than 150 members of the class returned to campus this September for their fifty-year class reunion, and they surveyed the change that their generation had wrought and witnessed.

“We were ready for change,” says Shirley Schlanger Abrahamson DJS’62. “We were ready for equal opportunity for all people, and as law students, we were especially committed to the constitution of equal protection and due process for all.”

The class made a deep impact on Wisconsin. For example, Zweifel, now editor emeritus of the Capital Times, has been associated with that Madison newspaper since one day after he graduated. Abrahamson was the first woman elected to Wisconsin’s Supreme Court and has served as chief justice since 1996. David Ward MS’62, PhD’63 first led UW–Madison as chancellor from 1993 to 2001 before returning as interim chancellor in 2011. Dennis Maki ’62, MS’64, MD’67, now emeritus faculty at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, is a world-renowned infectious-diseases expert.

“The people of the state of Wisconsin have historically recognized the value of education, as did my parents, who were immigrants,” Abrahamson says.

“Education is important for all of us to participate in a democratic government and in the economic lives of our communities.”

The Class of 1962 continues to make its mark on campus. A reunion gift of more than $140,000 from this class will support Alumni Park, the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s 150th anniversary gift to campus — a new greenspace on the shore of Lake Mendota. “The UW System is a tribute to the hard work of all the people of this state,” Abrahamson says. “And it’s my hope it will continue to be a world-class university system.”

Published in the Winter 2012 issue


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