It was a very happy 150th birthday for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
The University welcomed more than 3,000 guests, including alumni, students, employees and community members, to the Oshkosh campus Sunday for its Sesquicentennial Community Celebration. The event—held on the 150th anniversary of the first day of classes at the Oshkosh State Normal School, which grew to become UW Oshkosh—included live music, food, drinks, children’s games, historical exhibits and remarks from Chancellor Andy Leavitt and local, regional and state leaders.
As anyone who attended can attest, there was a lot to take in. Here’s a sampling of moments and happenings from UW Oshkosh’s big day.
Proud Titan family
Oshkosh resident Lynn Gilles ’89 and ’02 MPA, is proud parent of two UWO students, Max and Moira, and the three were enjoying music and food at the sesquicentennial celebration. Gilles, who has worked as transit manager for Fond du Lac Area Transit the past 18 years, said she had a great experience at UWO. She attended the University in the footsteps of her father, who graduated in 1959 with a degree in social work. Gilles lived in Fletcher Hall and met a number of lifelong friends while here, including at least one she “talks to every week.” One fun memory Gilles recalled is when she knitted special UWO-themed sweaters for her parents to wear to football games. Her father had played football for UWO and her parents attended games in style when her brother Chris Mellberg was part of Titan football in the late 1980s.
Cheers to 150 years
Part of the origin story of Fifth Ward Brewing Co. in Oshkosh involves co-founders Ian Wenger ’14, and Zach Clark working with the Small Business Development Center in the UWO College of Business to refine their business plan. They also learned the art of brewing beer while students at UWO. Along with a third business partner, the two former Titans opened their brewery in 2017. They were back on campus to celebrate the 150th with a commemorative beer made just for the occasion. The new brew, called Sesquicentenniale, is a classic take on the American amber ale with honey malt for a sweet honey-like touch. It was on tap at the event and cans will be available in stores around the Fox Valley in the weeks ahead.
Jerry Gonyo ’64, of Bloomington, Indiana, made a $150,000 gift to UWO in honor of the sesquicentennial year, with $100,000 going to scholarships and $50,000 dedicated to challenge others to donate funds for Giving Day. An Oshkosh native who majored in economics, Gonyo attended the Sesquicentennial Community Celebration with his two sisters. He said he enjoys “paying it forward” and supporting students and his alma mater. “I always tend to do it with strings attached so I can see where (financial support) goes,” he said, related to his challenge gift. Gonyo plans to be back on campus next month during Homecoming weekend. This spring it was announced that Gonyo will receive the Alumni Association’s inaugural Alumni Outstanding Service Award.
Lights, camera, action!
New UW Oshkosh Alumni Association Board member Justine Braun ’15, a radio TV film (RTF) graduate from Green Bay, helped cohost the RTF livestream of the celebration with current RTF junior Baily Laird, of Kenosha. Braun, a video production specialist for the city of De Pere, always enjoys coming back and giving back to her alma mater. Laird serves as the promotional director for Titan TV, UWO’s student-run television station.
Titans take the stage
Over the event’s four hours, four musical acts played on two stages. Each of the acts—Ken Yerkes, the Present Age, the Astronomers and the Jazz Orgy (pictured)—include current or past UWO students. The Astronomers, for instance, include Michael Stensland, a senior radio TV film major from Fond du Lac; Ben Baker, a senior management major from Fond du Lac; and former UWO students Ike Holzmann and Josh Guy. Later in the afternoon, the Fox Valley band the Jazz Orgy took the stage. They are Titans with ties to a previous generation. Members Mark Te Tai and Tom Ditzler graduated from UWO in 1995 and Jon Leahy in 2005. Andy Mertens attended UWO for a semester before moving on to Lawrence University, but said he had a wonderful time as a student on the Oshkosh campus.
All decked out
UWO alumna Judy Phillip, a 1970 physical education major, of Appleton, returned to campus for the weekend, which included a lunch for Golden Titan grads celebrating their 50th class anniversaries. The honored alumni received yellow and white paper chrysanthemums—UWO’s official flower—reminiscent of the tissue paper flowers that were created for the University’s 50th anniversary and the Oshkosh State Normal School’s first Homecoming in October 1921.
Leaders mark the milestone
A collection of local, regional and state leaders visited the Oshkosh campus to mark the occasion. Among those who took to the stage for a 1 p.m. program to speak on the incredible impact the University has had not only on the Oshkosh region but also the state, country and beyond, were U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, State Sen. Dan Feyen, State Rep. Gordon Hintz, Oshkosh Mayor Lori Palmeri (pictured) and UW System Board of Regents’ Michael Grebe. UWO Chancellor Andy Leavitt also addressed the crowd to both recognize 150 years of excellence and opportunity in Oshkosh and the importance of its Giving Day campaign to help ensure the next 150 years are as substantial and meaningful.
Clash from the past
Before Clash, there was Tommy Titan. And thanks to hours of hard work by 2021 graduate Arimasa Imaizumi, an international student from Japan who got his start on the Fox Cities campus, the long-gone mascot was recreated for Sunday’s celebration. The five-foot head and shoulders was on display at the back of the live music tent.
The original Tommy Titan debuted in 1967. It was the University’s first-ever mascot and was created by art students and alumni. Tommy Titan and his three-foot papier-mache head would be used for sporting events, parades and other gatherings until fading away in the 1970s.
Fond memories for music educator
Longtime Oshkosh high school music instructor Terry Hathaway ’69 and ’75 MST and his wife, Amy, were marveling at the changes on the Oshkosh campus. Terry recalled how the music hall was constructed on campus after the music department had used buildings all over campus. He recalled music theory was held in the current multicultural building and piano lessons were held in a house near campus. When the hole was dug for the foundation of the new music hall, he remembers students having fun, placing music stands on the dirt and holding a practice. Terry, who was trained to instruct band, chorus and orchestra, was a music teacher for 37 years at city high schools and directed the Oshkosh Community Band for 31 years. He said he enjoyed wonderful teachers and meeting outstanding musicians at UWO.
Generations of black and gold
One of many families with multiple generations at UWO, Keith and Dana (Barnstable) Koch of Oshkosh have children who continued their educations as Titans. An education major who graduated in 1991, Keith was on the swim and dive team and became the school’s first All-American. Dana graduated with a degree in journalism-business advertising in 1990. Their son, Alex ’20, was a Titans baseball player and their daughter, Courtney, is a senior business marketing major. The couple said their children were able to receive a great education and have a college experience without going into debt. “We’re glad they went here, and I think they’re glad too,” Dana said.
UWO journalism instructor Grace Lim guided sesquicentennial celebration visitors through exhibits on display in Dempsey Hall. The Rephotography project captured then-and-now scenes on campus, highlighting how times have change. The Humans of UW Oshkosh told the first-person stories of alumni, students, faculty and staff. The exhibits will both be on view in the Gail F. Steinhilber Art Gallery on the third floor of Reeve Union through Oct. 25.
Match made in Oshkosh
Sue and Ron Blackney of Batavia, Illinois, met during their time at UWO when Sue noticed Ron at Blackhawk Commons. She remembers he asked her to a dance. Ron, who had been a residence adviser at Nelson Hall, graduated in 1974 with a degree in accounting. Sue had three different campus jobs during her undergraduate years and earned her degree in education in 1977. The couple visited Sunday to check out campus and enjoy the 150th celebration of their alma mater.