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Mendota on Our Minds

These Lake Mendota memories are guaranteed to give you a wave of nostalgia.

A fishing lure rests atop the left side of a photograph of a sailboat. There is a piece of driftwood and a bobber in the foreground in front of the photograph.

The Wisconsin Idea says that the borders of the UW are the borders of the state — but in more literal terms, UW–Madison’s north border is a damp one: the miles of shoreline that stretch from Eagle Heights to Lake Street. Many campus memories are made along both sides of that border: walking the Lakeshore Path or learning to sail in a Hoofers boat or taking the frozen “shortcut” from Kronshage Hall to Memorial Union. In the monthly digital Badger Insider, we asked WAA members to share their favorite lake memories, and here are highlights of what you sent us.

Date or Deadweight?
Hanging out after windsurfing one evening, a tall, tan, very fit Nordic looking guy came and said he needed bodies for the big sailboat (the Maria?). I didn’t hesitate to volunteer. My job was to serve as ballast and “hike out” as needed. I never saw Erik or the Maria again (sniff), but I will go to my grave with a vivid recollection of doing backbends over the side of the boat and the blasts of spray from my fingers as Maple Bluff mansions blurred by — upside down! Utterly thrilling. Thanks for the memories, Hoofers — and Erik!

Jenny Pilling ’90, MA’92

Crystal Clear
In my sophomore year, winter of ’74–75, my roommate’s brother brought ice boats to sail on Mendota. After a quick lesson, I was speeding on the perfect ice that Mendota is known for. Flying along, inches from the ice was very memorable. It must be, since sometimes I can’t remember why I went into a room.

Chuck Becker ’78
Laughlin, Nevada

Swim and Strum
Swimming from our sorority pier to a nearby fraternity pier where one member played the banjo and the rest of us drank beer and sang along

JoAnn Reid ’52
Danville, California

Terrace Time Delayed
My son, who’s a prospective Badger, wanted to see the campus and the lake this summer. We were able to take a few nice photos of the sunset over Mendota even though we couldn’t get out onto the Terrace.

Thom Knutson ’90
Tucson, Arizona

I grew up in Madison, so I loved all the lakes. They always bring back great memories.

Jan Johnston ’53
Wadsworth, Ohio

Free Ice Box
My senior year I lived in an apartment building on the lake. On Friday afternoons during my last semester, my best friend, now husband, and I would take a six pack of beer down to the dock. We put the beer in a mesh potato sack and hung it in the water to keep it cold. We put down our towels and spent a couple of hours tanning.

Kathleen Kuehl ’77
Mesa, Arizona

Winter Wonder Water
Cross-country skiing across Lake Mendota starting at Memorial Union and continuing across the lake to Warner Park/Northport Drive: it’s amazing how quiet and beautiful it is in the middle of Lake Mendota on a winter night.

James Rinehart ’78, MS’84
Indianapolis, Indiana

Go, Big Red?
I’m so old that I remember how happy UW was that Fidel Castro was victorious in overcoming the Cuban dictator. A student group put up a large statue/figure of Fidel out on frozen L. Mendota. It was a popular attraction. I believe I remember it lasted until the ice melted, and there was a scene with the figure falling slowly into the water. You must have photos in your files.

Bob Warshal ’63, MS’64
Rome, New York

Great Apartment for the Hard of Hearing
In my junior and senior years I lived at the Surf apartment building on Mendota Court, about a block away from the Union. We were on the top floor, and I had a straight-on view of the capitol off my balcony and Lake Mendota on our left. I haven’t had a better view since. However, living on the lake had a downside — the crew teams practiced early six days a week, and the coxswain used a bullhorn to keep the rhythm.

Curt Andrus ’85
Lewisville, Texas

Thermometer Thermemory
I remember walking a mile from my off-campus apartment to Bascom Hall when it was 15 degrees below and the wind like a knife. I used to dodge into store entryways for a second to take chill off. One time I flew home at semester break, and my father met me in Louisville where it was 15 degrees. He complained about the cold, and I said, “In Madison, if it’s zero, it’s a heat wave!”

James Greene ’65
Harlan, Kentucky

Eat Your Heart Out, Hans Brinker
I remember a cold, cold winter night when Peter Christianson and I skated from Memorial Union to the governor’s mansion and back. The night was clear and the ice was cracking loudly. We were thrilled we did it.

David Barnes ’73
Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Wind Tunnel
I lived at one of the Alpha Chi Sigma houses, 621 N. Lake Street, my junior and senior years. I remember turning the corner onto Lake from Langdon or State or University, and how the wind would suddenly be so much stronger once the buildings no longer blocked it.

Julie Brady ’79
Wilmington, Delaware

Let’s Check the Record Books
On a cold winter Sunday in February 1971, my roommate Terry Ackerman ’72 and I decided to kick a football across Lake Mendota. The first kick was from the WAA building. Several hours later, we arrived near the Mendota Hospital on the far side. We met a few people fishing, but mostly it was two young men talking about nothing much. We assume we still hold the record for the Lake Mendota football kick crossing. On, Wisconsin!

R. Alan Bates ’72, JD’75
Janesville, Wisconsin

This story appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Badger Insider magazine.

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