Extensive history predates modern Dads Weekend

By Zack Fishman, Staff Writer

This November will mark the 98th year of the Dads Weekend celebration at the University, but the ways in which Illini fathers are celebrated has changed extensively over time. Historical documents, including old editions of The Daily Illini, depict decades of varying history and tradition.

The University first invited fathers to campus in 1920 for “Dad’s Day,” inspired by a similar event previously hosted by the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. Centered around a football game between Illinois and Ohio State, the program also included an ROTC parade, a dinner held by fraternities and sororities and an evening “smoke.” The event and its sheer popularity sparked an annual tradition.

By its third year, some visiting dads organized the “Illinois University Dads Association” with the goal of “furthering the interests of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and cooperating with the students and faculty,” according to the organization’s constitution. Since its founding as the first university-level parent association in the country, the Dads Association has played a central role in organizing Dads Weekend and maintaining a connection between the campus and its students’ parents.

Over the past century, the Dads Weekend programs have varied widely in their ways of entertaining visitors on campus. The earliest years were host to everything from horse shows to literary societies debating about labor union disputes, among more commonplace entertainment like theater performances and movie showings.

But for the first several decades, the most highly promoted event of the weekend was the “Dolphin Show.” From the earliest years of Dads Weekend to the 1960s, the Dolphin Club, a men’s swimming organization, put on swimming performances “in ten spectacular acts,” according to a 1960 Daily Illini article, followed by “the selection of a Dolphin Queen by the audience (to) highlight the Dads Day productions.” In what appears to have been a beauty contest, female students — well over 100 of them in some years — would compete to be crowned Dolphin Queen in a similar style to modern Homecoming courts.

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While the Dolphin Show eventually came to an end, an even greater tradition continues to this day: King Dad. Since 1948, students have nominated their fathers to win the title and be celebrated during the halftime of a football game. In the past, King Dad had been crowned by Chief Illiniwek during the Homecoming game and celebrated with songs from the marching band and cheers from the crowd.

Dads Weekend has not been without its struggles. In 1943, World War II and subsequent rations dampened attendance to 500 visitors, down 90 percent from a few years earlier. But today, it remains as strong of a tradition and with as compassionate of a spirit as any point in history.

As stated by Bill Garish, a chairman of the event in 1965, “The purpose of Dad’s Day is to entertain the dads and to show them we appreciate them.”

Zack is a junior in Engineering.

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