The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Capturing 20 years of Eau Claire Homecomings

    Janie Boschma

    In the library is a display that captures every UW-Eau Claire Homecoming celebration since 1988.

    There are crisp action shots of monumental game moments and fun pictures of absurdly dressed fans. Flashy band instruments catch the light and unsuppressed emotion leaks from every face. The fashions have changed, but the spirit has not.

    The people in Rick Mickelson’s “20 Homecomings” exhibit in McIntyre Library are immersed in the spirit of Homecoming. Mickelson is the photography and graphics coordinator for the media production department of Learning and Technology Services.

    “What I like is that every day I walk in . and (the pictures are) setting the mood for fall,” said John Pollitz, library director.

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    Mickelson’s first day at the university in 1988 was Homecoming, he said, and his first assignment was to cover the event. Taking a camera he’d never used before, he shot the parade and game.

    And he’s done so ever since.

    Twenty years later, Mickelson still shoots Homecoming at Eau Claire. He said the one-time assignment has become his signature event.

    He developed the idea for “20 Homecomings” last year and approached the alumni office for funding and the library for the space. Foster Gallery provided the frames, and Mickelson was left with the time-consuming process of choosing images.

    He said he decided to organize his work thematically, so many frames hold up to nine photographs of one idea.

    “(Homecoming is) an event that brings students together with the alumni and everyone has fun,” he said, as he described why he has enjoyed shooting it year after year.

    Some events have changed, Mickelson said, but many traditions have remained the same over 20 years.

    Student partying has always been a big part of it, he said with a smile, adding his pictures don’t show too much of that aspect.

    Another major feature is the band. It lost popularity for a time, but is one of the largest in Division III and works “just as bit as hard as the football team,” Mickelson said.

    Coordinator of Student Development and Programs Paula Stuettgen, who has advised Homecoming for 30 years, said the ebb and flow of the parade depends on the director, but the group now has become more of a show band, which is ideal for the Homecoming parade.

    “(Randy Dickerson) really has taken the Blugold Marching Band to a whole new level in terms of performance, precision . and size,” Stuettgen said.

    Mickelson said he also loves shooting the parades, which brings the community – including kids – together with alumni and students.

    Senior Amy VerBurg said she was surprised to walk into the library and see herself in one of the parade pictures in the display.

    “It was cool to see myself up there,” she said. “I definitely wasn’t expecting it.”

    VerBurg is a driver of royalty couples in the photo collage, which was taken two years ago.

    The parade route has also changed over the years. It used to be held down Barstow Street, Stuettgen said, and was moved to Water Street from 1989 to 2001. In 2002, she said the committee decided to move the parade to its current route down First Avenue because of space. There wasn’t enough sidewalk between the store and bar fronts and the street, she said, which was a safety concern.

    Finally, every Homecoming centers on the football game, reflected in several frames. Football is truly iconic for “all things college,” Pollitz said, adding that the photos really reflect school spirit.

    Mickelson’s favorite shots are those he describes as “faces in the crowd.” Other standout pictures for the artist include one of several important people in Eau Claire history and a 2001 shot of a man blowing a kazoo on Water St.

    Mickelson said he has gotten a lot of good response for the display, from both community members and people on campus. Pollitz said two older community members came to the library specifically to see the display.

    Judy Sims, a professor in communication and journalism, saw the exhibit.

    “That guy is so talented,” said Sims. “(He was) able to capture the energy and excitement of Homecoming.”

    VerBurg agreed, saying it is neat to see such a display of school spirit expressed in a variety of ways through the photographs.

    It can be difficult to capture humans, said

    Sims, who experiments with photography. But Mickelson makes the people look natural, she said.

    “You can see that they’re having a good time,” she said of the people in his pictures.

    As for the fate of the display after early next week, Mickelson, the music and athletic departments, and the alumni office have asked to display some of his work, so the “20 Homecomings” display will be spread around campus.

    The years have passed quickly, Mickelson said, since he can still remember taking specific pictures from the 1990s. The display has been a great reminder of his career at UW-Eau Claire, and he looks forward to at least 10 more years of shooting Homecomings.

    “The faces change,” Mickelson said, “but that’s part of the fun of it.”

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    Capturing 20 years of Eau Claire Homecomings