More than events — Alumni reunite at Homecoming to celebrate Vandal spirit, memories
University of Idaho Homecoming week ends Sunday with the new “Toast to Idaho” alumni brunch, but Homecoming adviser Tim Helmke said it’s about more than events.
“It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate what it really means to be at the UI,” Helmke said. “It’s a chance for students to compete in competitions, but more so for alumni to come back and relive their memories here.”
Former UI athletes like Jerry Kramer, known for his 11-year career with the Green Bay Packers, and Kristin Armstrong, Olympian and two-time gold medalist in the road bicycle are among the returning alumni.
This year’s theme, “Brave and Bold,” has been in the planning stages since one week after last year’s Homecoming, said Jim Martinez, assistant Homecoming Committee chair.
“It’s a little different from others in the past,” Martinez said. “It’s a little more of a pep rally theme. The words come from the fight song to bring it back to what it means to be a Vandal.”
He said they start planning so far in advance because there are really only two people who start planning Homecoming.
“We have two people that are two-year commitments for the committee, but we have to recruit other people,” Martinez said.
He said selecting the theme is the most time consuming because once they have a few ideas, they have to take them to the marketing committee — which includes the alumni director, the athletic department and the VandalStore, among others — and once everyone agrees on a topic, it has to be approved by the president.
The rest of the planning has gone fairly smoothly, Martinez said.
“I remember being a committee member last year and it seemed like a lot was going on, but now in this position it seems to be going really smoothly,” he said.
Many of the events are already planned because they are UI tradition.
“Some events we know we are going to keep because they are so popular,” he said. “We will always keep the scavenger hunt, always the blood drive or some philanthropic event, always the jingles — in the past they were just skits, but this year has to have some musical component as well. The Serpentine — if you look in the tradition keeper book, it’s been a tradition for so long.”
Despite the numerous traditional events, Helmke said there are a few new events in the lineup this year.
Thursday marked the debut of Vandal Crest, wines made by Camus Prairie Winery specifically for UI. Helmke said they made four different wines in the label for UI, which were all tested during the wine tasting at University Inn Best Western.
There will also be an alumni social from 6 – 8 p.m. at the VandalStore.
“(Alumni) can catch the Serpentine as it marches by to the Kibbie for fireworks,” Helmke said.
The “Toast to Idaho” brunch that closes the week is from 9 – 11 a.m. Sunday, also at the University Inn Best Western.
“It’s a toast to UI to get students and alumni together,” Helmke said.
He said it emulates the common theme of the week.
Although Martinez said the brunch is the final event, the bonfire Friday is the big shebang.
“It’s half alumni and community members and half students,” Martinez said. “We expect about 2,000 people (to attend), but if there is good weather — which there should be — more could attend.”
The bonfire starts at 8:30 p.m. when the Serpentine, consisting of the Idaho Marching Band, living groups and students, arrives at the ASUI Kibbie Dome parking lot. It is then that the royalty court is named, followed by the Latah Federal Credit Union Fireworks Extravaganza at 9:15 p.m.
Helmke said while the entire week costs $18,000, the fireworks are an additional $8,000.
The $18,000 is funded through alumni entrepreneurial projects while the $8,000 needed for the fireworks comes from donations. Alumni projects include the insurance program, credit card program, cap and gown sales and wine sales that reserve a portion of their revenue for Homecoming.
Helmke said the sponsored event is named after the Latah Federal Credit Union, which provided a majority of the funding. ASUI also contributed to the event.
ASUI President Hannah Davis said that while ASUI does not play a direct role in planning Homecoming, the past few years they have donated to the fireworks fund.
“We gave $1,000 for funding,” Davis said. “It is something that benefits students, and everyone enjoys.”
She said even though this isn’t the first donation, it was discussed and kept in the senate committee for a while.
“Homecoming is one of the oldest, and personally one of my favorite, traditions at UI,” Davis said. “We try to support as much as we can. I put the events in the campus email and encourage everyone to go to the events. We try to support all other events on campus because we ask for their support.”
The parade, which starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, had 83 floats last year, but Martinez said they are expecting a lot more because it is an election year.
“We have around 102 this year,” Martinez said. “It might be more, it might be less, but it’s right around there.”
UI Dean of Students Bruce Pitman said whether you are watching the parade or the bonfire, Homecoming is a terrific celebration of our history and an important opportunity for alumni to come back to campus and reconnect to the institution that means a great deal to them.
“A number of boards and alumni groups, including the Alumni Association, meet this weekend and they are very, very helpful to the institution, and homecoming provides them that opportunity to come back and not only learn what’s happening, but for creative ideas of ways to support the university,” Pitman said. “And it’s just fun. Sometimes it’s nice to do something just for fun.”
Katy Sword can be reached at email@example.com