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Badgering: Captain Steve Holtzman

Six questions with a UW Badger on the move
by Esther Seidlitz

Look through the lens of Steve Holtzman, a lifelong fan of UW–Madison. Holtzman was born and raised on campus. Minus a few stints in other cities, he has lived most of his life in Madison. Now, Holtzman’s current role as Captain Steve of WAA’s Bucky Boat bridges his love for adventure and his affection for his hometown.

Can you tell us about your background and how you’ve developed such a strong connection to UW–Madison? 

I was born when my dad was completing his engineering degree, and later he did graduate school. One of the first places I lived was University Housing. I grew up in Madison, always been close to the university, going to football games. Now I’ve been auditing classes. And that has been really fulfilling, especially since the auditing program was something that my dad did 25 years ago. He had to go to the legislature to get authorization for it — took him three years. That’s a family accomplishment that now has something like 2,500 students every year just in the Madison campus. That’s something I’m proud of and benefiting from greatly. 

How did you become Captain Steve of the SS Bucky Boat?

Well, I really owe it to my wife. I was a volunteer for pontoon rides, and I’ve been on the lake for years. I’ve done literally hundreds of sailboat races. I learned to race in the Hoofers when I was in school, the Hoofer Sailing Club. I’m just a water rat. [My wife] was looking for jobs, and she saw this posted on the university site, and she just said, “This is for you.” And they [WAA] could see that there was a good fit. 

What does a typical excursion look like? What are the favorite spots on Lake Mendota?  

One thing that’s a theme on many boat rides is Frank Lloyd Wright’s interaction with the lake. Even as a teenager, he lived down here on Livingston Street. As a 17-year-old, he worked with Allan Conover at the engineering school on the drawings for Science Hall. There’s also the spiritual significance of the Indigenous people and the way they related to the lake. They didn’t look at the lake as a place for recreation or a place to make money. For them, the lake had a spiritual presence in their life. They had their villages around springs that were the gateways to the spirit world, where they could get the wisdom of their ancestors.

But there’s also just a ton of history here. In this role, I don’t have a set narrative that I’m presenting to people. What I present is a function of what I’ve been reading, because it’s really fun to learn about Lake Mendota. 

How did you learn so much about the lake and the surrounding area? 

I go to a lot of campus events. It’s about being connected to people, being in conversation with people. I take courses, I learn about some of the professors. I just stay connected to the university. You know what’s really good is to listen to the chancellor talk from time to time. I’ve learned a lot from just going to functions where Chancellor [Rebecca] Blank is talking, or [WFAA president and CEO] Mike Knetter. You learn a lot about the priorities, the initiatives, what’s important to the university. I just make a point of searching that stuff out, reading about it. There’s just no end of resources.

What do you find fulfilling about your role as Captain Steve? 

There’s just such a pride in this university. It’s just so satisfying being part of it. I do not know of another organization, including the world-champion Milwaukee Bucks, that has such a winning streak, has so many firsts, and generates so much pride. 

What are you most looking forward to as things start opening up again this fall? 

Well actually I’m looking forward to the beginning of classes in just a few weeks. I don’t know what I’m going to take yet, but it’s always exciting to see the students come back. I’m really hoping that they’ll be able to come back. That’s what I’m excited about now. And I’ll tell you, one of the most fun trips is to go down University Bay when the band is rehearsing and to hear “On, Wisconsin” come across the water.

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