Campus history – On Wisconsin For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Mon, 04 Feb 2019 21:09:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Stone Survivor Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:41:24 +0000 Sandstone statue in a garden

Bryce Richter

After 70 secretive years, a gargoyle has been reunited with its twin. One of the sandstone statues, which sat atop the old Law School, was thought to have been destroyed during the building’s 1963 demolition. But the children of Paul Been ’49 LLB’53 grew up hearing a different story. Been, along with a fellow law student, hauled it away in a wheelbarrow after a storm, according to the family. His children returned the statue in September.

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Bad News Badgers Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:41:24 +0000 Black and white photo showing students in stands at 1968 Badger football game

UW Archives 2018s00431

In 2017, the Badgers lost just one football game. In 1968, they couldn’t win one.

It’s almost impossible to believe in these days of annual bowl game appearances, but the UW once suffered through 23 straight winless games — 22 losses and a tie. A key contributor was the ill-fated 1968 squad, whose 0–10 finish remains, 50 years later, the worst record in the school’s history.

I’m the poor soul who covered that team for the Daily Cardinal, which gave me a front-row seat for a debacle that was as hard to watch as it was to stomach. The Badgers scored an average of just 8.6 points per game — while allowing more than 30 — and endured three straight shutouts. There were blowout losses to the likes of Arizona State (55–7), Michigan State (39–0), Iowa (41–0), and Ohio State (43–8).

That, though, was merely misery. Agony was witnessing the gut-wrenching ways the Badgers squandered their few shots at victory. In a 21–17 home loss to heavily favored Washington, the UW threw four interceptions in the game’s last four minutes.

At Northwestern, the Badgers led 10–6 in the fourth quarter when their tailback broke free up the middle, only to pull up with a leg injury. Three straight Wisconsin penalties killed the drive, and the Wildcats won 13–10.

The ultimate heartbreaker was the UW’s Homecoming game against Indiana. The underdog Badgers lost 21–20 after missing six field goal attempts, the last one coming with 22 seconds to play after the holder mishandled the snap.

While the players never quit, they couldn’t overcome a shortage of talent and an oversupply of injuries and penalties, some the result of officiating blunders. It all added up to the first — and still only — season that failed to produce even a tie since 1889, when the inaugural Badger squad finished 0–2. The season ended with many of the team’s African American players boycotting the football banquet, saying the coaching staff treated them unequally.

The captain of this sinking ship was second-year head coach and former UW star quarterback John Coatta ’53, MS’59, who had inherited a mess and went 0–9–1 in his debut season.

Victory finally arrived four games into the 1969 season, when the UW scored 23 straight fourth-quarter points to upset visiting Iowa, 23–17. Those Badgers won three games, but Coatta’s contract was not renewed. Only six winning seasons followed in the next 23 years — until a guy named Alvarez turned weeds into roses in 1993 and beyond.

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Stem Cells at 20 Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:41:22 +0000 In the lab dish, a human embryonic stem cell can live forever. If the conditions are right, the cell will divide endlessly, providing a limitless supply of the blank-slate cells now used widely in biomedical science.

Immortality is an astonishing quality, certainly, but the feature of stem cells that has most captured the public’s imagination since they were first cultured at UW–Madison 20 years ago is the ability to manipulate them to become any of the myriad cells in the human body. The idea that specialized cells could be whipped up in large quantities to treat any number of afflictions — from dopaminergic cells for Parkinson’s to islet cells for diabetes — is a powerful one.

“For the first time, we had unlimited access to all of the basic cellular building blocks of the human body,” says James Thomson, the UW developmental biologist who first derived the original cells in 1998. “And if you make an embryonic stem cell line, that’s infinite. You can make as many cells as you want.”

But two decades on, stem cells have yet to live up to that grand clinical aspiration. Embryonic and now genetically induced stem cells from adult tissue have become lab workhorses and underpin the new field of stem cell and regenerative medicine. Worldwide, there is a score of clinical trials using stem cells, including trials for heart disease, the blinding disease macular degeneration, and spinal cord injury. And some of those trials are using the original cells Thomson made.

“I think where things are right now is pretty promising,” Thomson says. “There are a number of trials underway. Most will fail because clinical trials are hard, but some will succeed. The whole field just needs one to work.”

Stem Cells 101

Illustration of sperm fertilizing an egg


Sperm fertilizes an egg. Illustration of fertilized egg starting to divide


The fertilized egg begins to divide. Illustration of fertilized egg divided in to many cells


Within five to seven days, the fertilized egg has divided into 100 cells (a blastocyst), containing cells that would form an embryo. The UW’s James Thomson used blastocysts produced through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and donated for research purposes. Illustration of cells in culture dish


Those cells are placed in a culture dish, where they continue to divide, becoming what’s known as a stem cell line. Illustration of cells in multiple culture dishes


The dividing cluster of cells is removed and separated into new culture dishes before it can become different types of cells. There, the cells continue to divide and remain stem cells. Illustration of cells in culture dish


Researchers use biological and chemical signals to coax stem cells — the Swiss Army knife of cells — into becoming various kinds of cells.

Illustration showing multiple types of cells created through stem cells7.

Stem cells provide a limitless source of cells that scienists hope will one day be used for therapy to treat conditions including heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and macular degeneration.

Global reach

The number of original stem cell lines

The number of times the original five stem cell lines have been distributed around the world to:
2,350 investigators | 820 institutions | 45 countries

$1.43 billion
U.S. funding for stem cell research (1998–2017)

U.S. scientists work with any of the original embryonic stem cell lines


stem cell–related patents have been issued to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (May 2018)

people — faculty, staff, and students — work with stem cells on the UW campus

Grants supporting stem cell projects at the UW (fiscal year 2017)

Wisconsin companies are devising stem cell–based products, mostly used to test drugs in lieu of using research animals

Then and now

The UW’s Thomson had high hopes for the technology in 1998. Today, he remains convinced that the legacy of stem cells will not necessarily be as therapy for replacing diseased or damaged cells, but in basic understanding of human development and — using engineered stem cells from patients — the cause of cell-based diseases, including diabetes, Parkinson’s, and ALS.

1998: Stem cell predictions

  • Revolutionize basic research and understanding of human and animal development
  • Use to screen drugs before using in humans
  • Develop treatments — including tranplants and replacement of diseased cells and neurons — within 10 years

2018: Stem cell reality

  • Use to study basic development and to model diseases in the laboratory
  • Test the good and bad effects of potential new drugs on human cells, rather than in animal models
  • The first clinical trials for treating condtions like spinal cord injury, eye disease, heart disease, and Parkinson’s are underway; therapeutic applications of stem cells have not yet been realized
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Stop at the Top Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:41:22 +0000 As he had done at the end of countless UW Marching Band practices, director Mike Leckrone stood on top of a ladder on a hot, sunny August afternoon. The band’s veterans, along with rookies who had just won a coveted spot, crowded around to listen.

It had been a year since Leckrone had lost his wife of 62 years, Phyllis. Seven months before that, he had undergone heart surgery. Today, he would tell the band of the decision he had shared with only a few senior university officials: he was ending his remarkable half-century reign. He would lead them through one more football season, followed by hockey and basketball and the spring concert.

In this moment, Leckrone told his musicians what he expected of them.

“You must maintain the traditions, the intensity, the desire, and everything that everybody for the last 50 years has brought to this group,” he said. “I would be sorely disappointed if I see that doesn’t happen, because it’s in your hands to do that.”

Later that day as the news quickly spread, alumni band members began posting decades-old photos of themselves in their band uniforms on Facebook with the hashtag #IMarchedforMike. In September, the annual alumni band day — when former members march during the football pregame and halftime shows — drew record numbers. So many people wanted to play under Leckrone’s direction for one last time that organizers had difficulty creating a routine that would fit more than 500 people on the field, all wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with his name.

“Any one of us whose paths have crossed Mike’s feel that … he deeply touched us and continues to do so,” Sarah Halstead ’87, a cymbal player who spent four years in the band, said shortly before the alumni band took the field. “We’re here to honor him and, in some way, say, ‘Thank you.’ We’ve heard so many times from him — ‘Just one more time.’ And this really is the last time.” It may seem strange to think now, but Leckrone could have spent decades performing the University of Minnesota fight song.

Every Badger fan who has attended a home basketball, football, or hockey game since 1969 knows the man wielding the baton — a beloved, charismatic musical leader who exhorts crowds to shout, “When you say Wis-con-sin, you’ve said it all!” So it’s hard to picture Leckrone leading a stadium full of Gopher fans through their signature chant of “M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A.”

But in 1968, seeking a step up from his job as marching band director at Butler University, Leckrone looked to the Big Ten and applied for openings at Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both schools turned him down.

A year later, the UW called and asked if he was still interested. Leckrone said yes, even though it did not have the makings of a dream gig. At that point, the band had cycled through three different directors in as many years. And in the last 20 games, the football team had logged 19 losses and one tie (see page 13). The band’s ranks had dwindled — from around 130 participants to just 96 — and they frequently played to partially empty stands. It was also the height of the antiwar protest era on campus.

“It wasn’t really politically correct to put on a uniform and march around campus in those days,” says Leckrone, 82, an Indiana native and the son of a marching band director.

Unimpressed with the band’s lack of energy, Leckrone changed its marching style. He made the switch to a high step, which requires a musician’s knee to hesitate while lifted at 90 degrees, which he calls “stop at the top.” Leckrone stressed pride in the band and worked on small details like the snap of the “horns up” movement. Gradually, more students joined and, by his third year, the band began to transform into a cohesive unit.

Initially there was some resistance, recalls Ray Luick ’73, the band’s drum major when Leckrone took over. Luick played tuba his freshman year in 1968 before serving as drum major for the next three seasons.

“He had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do and we didn’t have a clue. Here’s a guy whose lifelong ambition was to be a Big Ten band director, and we were just part of the group he inherited,” says Luick, who returns each year with his drum major baton to lead the alumni band.

Fifty years after watching Leckrone take over the band, Luick is not surprised to see the director in charge this long.

“He has never lost the enthusiasm or the realization that this is just a lot of fun for a lot of people,” Luick says. “I think that recognition of how all these insane pieces fit together is very important to him and allowed him not to see this as 50 years of work but a continuation of something he enjoys doing.”

When he was hired, Leckrone figured he would transition to an administrative role in the School of Music within 10 years. But he enjoyed the marching band so much that, within a few years, he put aside thoughts of taking off the black uniform he wore for football games.

He says he’s lucky Minnesota turned him down. With a smile, Leckrone explains that Wisconsin has a much better fight song.

“Part of that is the cleverness [songwriter William] Purdy used in the song. That first four-note interchange — da, da, da, dum — you can turn it into all sorts of musical ideas. It doesn’t sound forced. It has a flow to it,” he says.

It has been decades since Leckrone struggled to find enough players to fill the band’s ranks. About 300 students make up the current band; 230 march at halftime. Others, usually freshmen, serve as alternates ready to step in for an injured player. To his musicians, Leckrone is more than a band director — he’s a mentor and coach who instills the necessity of hard work and having fun. And as the fortunes of Badger sports teams have soared and sunk over the years, there’s always been one constant: the appeal of the band.

“Mike is without question one of the most beloved figures in the history of UW–Madison. He has made a significant impact on campus, in Madison, throughout the state, and beyond,” says UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. “When we speak with officials from bowl games each year, I tell them that Wisconsin will bring the whole package — team, fans, and band. Mike’s leadership of the band has certainly been an important part of that package for our school for many, many years.”

Although it might look seamless to fans at Camp Randall, each band performance at home games represents much thought, planning, and practice. Leckrone is one of the few — if not the only — college marching band director to continue to arrange all the band’s music as well as write charts for the pregame and halftime shows.

In addition to leading the marching and pep bands at sports events, Leckrone also teaches classes and conducts the symphonic band. A fan of big band music, his jazz and pop music courses are popular because of his encyclopedic knowledge and his infectious excitement for the tunes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and other early jazz legends. During a lecture on his favorite jazz artist — trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke — Leckrone has been known to dramatically rip open his overshirt to reveal a “Bix Lives!” T-shirt.

“It’s pretty amazing to keep up with his schedule. He’s a very energetic guy. I hope I have at least a quarter of his energy when I’m his age,” says assistant director of bands Darin Olson, who’s some 50 years Leckrone’s junior.

Leckrone knows the students who crowded around his ladder in August are the last group of young adults he’ll lead at the UW. They are the ones who will play his last football games at Camp Randall. They will tell the musicians who join the band next year and the year after that, what it was like to play for a legend.

He reminded them to keep up the intensity — but, most of all, to have fun.

“You have provided me with so many moments of happiness,” an emotional Leckrone said during his August address. “I can’t even begin to thank you. I will tell you those moments of happiness have gotten me through difficult times. I hope they can do that for you. Live for those moments of happiness.”

Then Leckrone climbed down and sang “Varsity” with his band.

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Langdon Street Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:15 +0000 In 1949, Officer Hector Naze poses with a seven-year-old Milverstedt on a State Street corner in Madison, WI

Arthur Vinje

Langdon Street wasn’t always the sole province of Greek-letter houses and student residences. Fred Milverstedt ’69, who grew up on the street, says, “I would sit on the front steps of the Pillars [apartment building], morning and night, and watch the parade [of] post-WWII students go by.” His mother would walk him partway to school and then have a police officer usher him across the street. In 1949, Officer Hector Naze posed with a seven-year-old Milverstedt on a State Street corner for a safety campaign. Milverstedt went on to major in journalism at the UW and spent time working for the Wisconsin State Journal, the Milwaukee Journal, the Associated Press, and the Capital Times. In 1975, he cofounded and became the first editor of the Isthmus, Madison’s free weekly, eventually becoming a writer and editor with the UW Foundation before his retirement.

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Rest in Pieces Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:14 +0000 Large elm tree shown partially cut down in front of the UW–Madison BioChemistry building

Robin Davies

Tragedy struck the west side of campus this summer when Elmer, a century-old elm tree, succumbed to Dutch elm disease and was cut down. Elmer stood outside the Hector F. DeLuca Biochemistry Building. The university had been working for 20 years to prevent Elmer’s demise, but the disease, which is caused by fungus and spread by beetles, finally won out. The elm was thought to be the largest tree on campus by trunk diameter, and biochemistry and horticulture staff hope to use its wood to make furniture.

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Memorial Library Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:14 +0000 The library was the state’s biggest building project since the Wisconsin Capitol in 1917. In the 1980s, plans for an eight-story addition were reduced by one floor to avoid blocking views of the capitol. Memorial Library is home to 3.5 million volumes — the largest single library collection in the state. Before the building’s construction in 1953, the library shared space with the Wisconsin Historical Society. Locked carrels, frequently called “cages,” are visible in this 1960s image. Second-year graduate students looking to avoid lugging books back and forth to the library can apply for one of the solitary study spaces. The library is known as one of the best places on campus to power through solo studying, a reputation reinforced by one review posted on Google: “Quietest public place for UW students. Not suitable for group work.”

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Wheelhouse Studios Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:13 +0000 What started four years ago as a small experiment meant to encourage the campus community to tap into its creativity has expanded tenfold into a hub for the skilled and newcomers alike to come together and make art. Wheelhouse Studios’ monthly Free Art Fridays draw between 300 and 400 people, and on the weekends it’s getting difficult to find an open pottery wheel.

“We exceeded all of our expectations, so organizationally, we’re figuring out what the sustainability plan is,” says recently retired director Jay Ekleberry ’77, MS’83. “How do we keep this going? How do we keep things fresh and new?”

Open 70 hours a week on the lower level of Memorial Union, Wheelhouse is available to students and union members and offers spaces dedicated to ceramic, 3D, and 2D art. The open-studio aspect is what sets the program apart, Ekleberry says. With other art spaces in Madison, “you can’t just waltz into your ceramics studio anytime between your class sessions and practice or work on a project.”

That time to pursue artistic passions was what inspired Wheelhouse’s predecessor, the Craftshop, which opened in 1930 after student Sally Owen Marshall ’30 used her senior thesis to petition for an art space on campus. It closed in 2012 for renovations to the union and Wheelhouse opened in 2014.

Close to 2,000 students and community members enroll in Wheelhouse classes during the year, and the studio attracts additional visitors when it hosts events to encourage conversation about contemporary issues. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the campus community was invited to drop in and create mixed-media collages representing their favorite quote from King. Wheelhouse has also hosted painting workshops to reinforce positive messages about body image.

“When you’re just sitting and talking when you’re working on an art project, the dialogue becomes deeper,” Ekleberry says. “It’s a whole different conversation because you’re engaged in this activity that’s activating the whole brain, forcing you to be creative. You have an instant common ground.”

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Washburn Observatory Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:27 +0000 Stargazers take in a nighttime view using the observatory’s vintage telescope. Washburn hosts regular public observing sessions and posts its schedule on Twitter. Built in 1881, the observatory was a gift to the UW from former Wisconsin Governor Cadwallader Washburn, who directed that the 15.6-inch telescope lens be at least equal in size to a rival instrument at Harvard. The telescope’s rusty tube in 2012: its lenses were removed for the first time to clear out dust and debris. “It’s probably working better now than it did in the 19th century,” says Jim Lattis, director of UW Space Place. The dome was refurbished in the 1990s; the rest of the building was restored and updated in 2009. Washburn overlooks Lake Mendota and sits atop Observatory Hill, where students like to sled on campus dining hall trays.

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Scary Story Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:26 +0000 Illustrated cover of book, "Don't Look Behind You!"

The UW’s Science Hall inspired the spooky setting for a onetime professor’s book.

Almost 75 years ago, the preoccupations of World War II left UW professor Samuel Rogers with an acute case of writer’s block.

Creepy inspiration struck when this leading scholar of the French novelist Honoré de Balzac — and a respected writer — got to thinking “what a lugubrious place Science Hall was.” The result was Don’t Look Behind You!, a novel that came to a terrifying end with “someone being chased by a homicidal maniac up through the stairs of Science Hall,” Rogers explained in a UW Archives oral history about his years in Madison.

Anyone who’s opened the heavy oak doors of the Romanesque Revival building, climbed the winding staircase — past the exposed brick walls bearing the ghostly signatures of students from long ago — to a tiny landing on the top floor where a pair of locked doors seem to lead nowhere, can appreciate his impulse.

In the 1920s, when Rogers began teaching at the UW, Science Hall housed the university’s anatomy department. First-year medical students and the cadavers they worked on jointly occupied a series of windowless rooms on the fourth and fifth floors — a fact that no doubt further inflamed his imagination.

In the summer of 1943, he crafted a Hitchcock-style psychological thriller set in a fictional Midwestern university town with lakes and many twisting paths through the woods. For a would-be victim, he fashioned a fetching nursing student named Daphne.

As possible suspects for the psychotic killer, he stocked a faculty lounge with maladjusted characters, including a professor way too immersed in his studies of abnormal psychology. After a series of frightful walks through dark woods, the ending comes as promised: Daphne is chased up the stairs to the upper reaches of Science Hall.

The tale caught the attention of Alfred Hitchcock himself, and the director bought the rights to turn it into a television script for his eponymous NBC drama. The 1962 episode starred a Hitchcock favorite, Vera Miles (who played Janet Leigh’s sister in Psycho), and remained quite faithful to the book. As for Rogers, Don’t Look Behind You! sold well enough to encourage him to write two more mysteries while continuing to serve on the UW faculty until his retirement in 1960.

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