It was 120 years ago, on June 2, 1897, that 11 graduates of the University of Arizona decided to organize in the spirit of unity among graduates to form the UA Alumni Association. More than a century later, UA graduates still unite around common traditions and the spirit of "Bear Down, Arizona," donning their red and blue and celebrating the University by returning for Homecoming.
"Our mission has shifted over the years, but it has never strayed from goals that include alumni unity created by our early founders," says Melinda Burke, president of the UA Alumni Association.
The Alumni Association constitution, a historic document written in 1897 and signed by 19 people, hangs on the wall of the Swede Johnson Building and states: "In order to promote the interests of the University, to secure unity among its graduates and to foster an attachment to our Alma Mater, we do hereby constitute ourselves as an association to be known as the Alumni Association of the University of Arizona." Mark Walker Jr., Class of 1897, was the first association president, serving until 1900.
Homecoming events to celebrate 120 years of connecting Wildcats for Life include the UAAA's anniversary luncheon on Friday, Oct. 27. The Alumni Heritage Society will launch this year to commemorate the 120th anniversary and honor donors who support the association.
Lynn Engel, former governing board chair, and Chad Becker, governing board vice chair and secretary, will be among the honorees. Engel returns each year for Homecoming and has honored her family legacy by creating the Stella and Swede Johnson Endowment.
"My parents, Stella and Swede Johnson, believed the heart and soul of the University of Arizona lived and grew through the University of Arizona Alumni Association," Engel says. "Through mine and my sister's commitment to the endowment, and the ongoing support of alumni, we know the UAAA will continue to thrive and to be the passionate voice of the University to our worldwide alumni. You are giving a gift for life when you become a member of the Alumni Heritage Society."
Becker and his wife, Dena, met at the UA and have been active as members of the Seattle alumni chapter and Wildcat for Life Leadership Council and as mentors in the Alumni Career Lab.
"We choose to support the Alumni Association because its mission is critical when it comes to the advancement of the University," Chad says. "Quite simply, the University cannot excel without an engaged and informed alumni base."
Alumni interested in learning more about alumni heritage and traditions are invited to attend the heritage and traditions lecture "Who's Rufus, Anyhow? Why Silver & Sage?" on Thursday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m. in the Catalina Room of the Student Union Memorial Center. For more information about the Alumni Heritage Society, contact Mike Celaya at 520-626-1893 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
UA Alumni Association Timeline
1897: The University of Arizona Alumni Association is organized and its first constitution adopted on June 2, 1897. Eleven graduates are declared members. All faculty are named honorary members.
1914: The first Homecoming is held on Thanksgiving Day.
1923: The Alumni Association adopts a new constitution on May 29. Dues are $10 for life membership. The first issue of "Arizona Alumnus" is published, dated Nov. 15, 1923.
1924: The Alumni Association expands with development of alumni clubs throughout Arizona and in major U.S. cities. The first out-of-state club is organized in Southern California.
1927-1928: The Alumni Association takes on its first fundraising project for a new football stadium and athletic facilities. The new stadium is dedicated on Oct. 12, 1929.
1934: The Alumni Association conducts its first scholarship fund drive, raising $350.
1942: "Arizona Alumnus" magazine is sent free to alumni in the Armed Forces.
1947: The first Homecoming queen, Ruth Tackett, is crowned at the University's 30th Homecoming on Nov. 22.
1956: An alumni fund drive is initiated in the fall. The money collected is to be used for scholarships, the research general fund and the operation of the Alumni Association.
1958: Marvin D. "Swede" Johnson becomes director of the Alumni Association and serves until he is named a University vice president.
1965: The Phoenix office of the Alumni Association opens.
1972: The Alumni Travel Program is launched.
1983: Hispanic and black alumni organizations are established. The Alumni Association is actively involved in student recruitment and holds the first student recruitment seminar.
1985: The Tents on the Mall tradition at Homecoming begins with 12 organizations participating. "Arizona Alumni Forum," a monthly television program produced by the Alumni Association, airs in Tucson, Phoenix and Yuma.
1986: The circulation of "Arizona Alumnus" exceeds 100,000 for the first time. UA Homecoming is featured on the "Geraldo!" television program.
1987: Bobcats become a coeducational honorary by naming its first female members.
1988: The Alumni Association moves to the new foundation/alumni building on Speedway Boulevard and Cherry Avenue.
1990: The Collegiate License Plate scholarship program is started.
2000: UA alumni number more than 200,000.
2005: The dues-paying membership program is launched in the September "Arizona Alumnus" magazine.
2011: Melinda Burke becomes president and executive director. The Student Alumni Association changes its name to Student Alumni Ambassadors and grows its membership to more than 300 students, becoming the largest student group on campus.
2012: UA alumni number more than 260,000.
2013: The Alumni Association launches an international ambassadors program.
2014: The Alumni Association celebrates the 100th anniversary of Homecoming. The first mobile app for Arizona alumni is launched.
2015: The Cats Give Back crowdfunding campaign raises more than $70,000 for scholarships. The Alumni Career Lab is created.
2017: UA alumni number more than 275,000. The Alumni Association launches the Alumni Heritage Society in recognition of the 120th anniversary of the association.