The Daily Illini

Dads Weekend traditions show changes through the decades

Robert Randall is crowned King Dad in 1991. This was a competition in which students voted on the best Illinois dad of that year.

Robert Randall is crowned King Dad in 1991. This was a competition in which students voted on the best Illinois dad of that year.

Illio Archive

Illio Archive

Robert Randall is crowned King Dad in 1991. This was a competition in which students voted on the best Illinois dad of that year.

By Chinmaya Sharma, Contributing Writer

With an inevitable influx of visitors expected on campus, it’s worthwhile to look back at how one of the University’s most cherished traditions has evolved over the decades. Prior to 1920, Dads Day Weekend was unheard of. It was “Bud” Hopkins, during an Alpha Delta Phi chapter meeting, who proposed to set aside a weekend for dads to come visit their children on campus.

The 1920s 

The first Dads Weekend was largely a student-led initiative, intended to make fathers “familiar with the processes through which their children were going to obtain a higher education.” Nevertheless, it commenced with much fanfare, with 2,000 dads in attendance.

Classes that Friday of the weekend were open house, allowing fathers to sit in class with their children. Additionally, the weekend featured an ROTC parade.

After the football game, a vote concluded that Dads Weekend would become an annual tradition. The subsequent year saw the formation of the Illini Dads Association. The original association was comprised of five members, including a president, a vice president and a secretary. Among other member qualifications, having a child who attended the University was a must.

In the next few years, the Illini Dads Association grew exponentially in organizational strength. It featured an executive committee, whose members were elected at Dads Weekend. A general committee also existed, whose members were appointed by the association’s president.

The 1930s

With cold weather unable to dampen spirits, dads and families were welcomed to wave orange flags around the campus. Among the highlights of the weekend, the first Chicago Blackhawks hockey exhibition took place and the Illini won their first Big Ten football game in a long time.

Dads and family members were treated to a performance of “Remote Control” by the Theatre Guild Production and a concert by the University Orchestra. A special Dads Day Dance was organized to entertain guests, accompanied by music by Dick Cisne’s orchestra. Other attractions included dolphin water carnivals, polo games and the Dads Day Banquet.

The 1940–50s

With the United States fighting in World War II, the attendance for Dads Weekend considerably dipped due to the fact that nothing was formally planned. Unsurprisingly, only 500 dads attended the event in 1942. Notably, Dads Weekend was combined with Armistice Day (Nov. 11) in order to commemorate those who lost their lives during the war.

The only events included football games, an informal reception, theater productions and dances. In 1945, an Armistice Day service was offered at the University Auditorium.

Toward the end of the decade, “Bringing Up Father” was introduced as a dance for dads and their sons and daughters. Additionally, there was the “King Dad” contest, where students voted for a dad who represented all the honorary visitors who had come to visit that day.

The 1960–70s

Unfortunately, visitor attendance for Dads Weekend dipped during this time. After searching for possible remedies, the University concluded that it would increasingly showcase its primary product: its students.

Visitors were treated to concerts by James Taylor and the Dixieland Dads Jazz Band, in addition to wheelchair football games and gambling at the casino in the Illini Union.

The 1980–90s

The ’80s and ’90s saw a mammoth rise in the popularity of Dads Weekend, cementing its status as one of the University’s most cherished traditions. Naturally, the event was up-scaled such that each day brimmed with activities that  visiting families and students could engage in.

The “Dad’s Night Out” was hosted by Atius-Sachem and featured several live entertainment performances by a cappella groups, comedians and cheerleaders accompanied by the pep band.

Chinmaya is a freshman in Engineering.

[email protected]

Leave a Comment