Famous and Infamous Politicians at Stout

by Kevin Thorie, University Archivist

As this long presidential contest finally approaches its end, it is interesting to note that Stout has had some sort of connection to all three of the leading candidates. John Kerry (1988) and Ralph Nader (1980) have appeared here and George Bush presented the Baldrige Award to the university. Over the decades nearly every Wisconsin governor, senator or representative has appeared at Stout. In addition, many politicians who aspired to the nation's presidency and vice-presidency have appeared here.

The only politician that I am aware of who has campaigned here and has gone on to become president is Senator John F. Kennedy. Appearing before a packed crowd at a special convocation in Harvey Hall on fta_05aFebruary 26, 1960, Kennedy emphasized the importance of the college vote in the coming election. In the book "Reminiscences: An Anthology of Oral History," former Stout faculty member Bob Melrose tells the story of the controversy that erupted when an FOB pledge asked Jackie Kennedy for her measurements. Her answer has never been recorded. It can be assumed, though, that she maintained her poise because later that day, while she was eating lunch at the Hotel Marion, a woman asked if she could join Jackie, even though she was a republican. Mrs. Kennedy replied, "That's all right, my parents are republicans."

Shortly after Kennedy's visit, Senator (later Vice President) Hubert Humphrey Appeared at Stout. (At that time the Wisconsin primary was considered one of the most important and many of the leading politicians would visit the state.) Humphrey first appeared at Stout in 1947 when he was Mayor of Minneapolis. It is interesting to note that the main emphasis of the speech he gave in 1947 as well as the one in 1960 was on the importance of youth to the nation. (A similar theme was used by his wife, Muriel, when she spoke at Stout a decade later.)

Walter Mondale, former Vice President of the United States and candidate for president, appeared at the Crystal Ballroom in the Memorial Student Center in 1988. Unlike the previous candidates mentioned, Mondale appeared on behalf of another candidate, Al Baldus. fta_05b

Not all of the politicians who have campaigned at Stout have been politically mainstream. George Lincoln Rockwell, head of the American Nazi Party, appeared here in 1967, just a few months before he was assassinated. Rockwell's views that "six million Jews were not massacred by Hitler, but are over here running the civil rights movement," were politely listened to, but it is doubtful if many people were converted. In the same vein, for reasons I am not entirely sure of, Senator Joe McCarthy sent his photograph to our local regent inscribed; "To Bob Pierce with sincere good wishes."

fta_05cThe highest ranking politician while in office to speak at Stout was Vice President Henry A. Wallace in 1944. Wallace served as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's running mate in 1940 (he was replaced by Harry Truman in the 1944 election). The purpose of his visit was to drum up support for the president in the coming election. The main theme of his speech was that after he became a wiser man he left the republican party to become a democrat. Surprisingly, considering Wallace was the first vice president to visit Menomonie, the local paper did not make his speech the main headline. Perhaps, though, it was because the local paper was republican.

It may have been a sign of the times that when Senator George McGovern spoke on campus in 1972 that the event had to be moved due to a bomb scare. The original presentation was to have been made in Harvey Hall, but following the threat it was moved to the student center.

Through the decades a number of presidential hopefuls have appeared at either Stout or Menomonie in their quest for the presidency. Some of the names that can be added to those listed above are: Harold Stassen, John Lindsay, Al Gore, Estes Kefauver and Robert Taft. Although the names of these men will slowly pass on into historical obscurity, it is comforting to know that there will always be more people who will be attempting to achieve the highest office in the land and there will continue to be students at Stout listening to them plead their causes.

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