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Historical homecoming tradition brings UWRF community together

October 14, 2021

This year’s homecoming week kicked off on Sept. 27 at 5:30 p.m. with Professor Jake’s famous bean soup, which was served in the campus mall to faculty, staff, students, and community members. 

The event started around 5 o’clock with words from Governor of Wisconsin Tony Evers, the President of the UW system Tommy Thompson, and UW-River Falls’s new Chancellor Maria Gallo, who all spoke about the 70 for 70 vaccination initiative. They encouraged all students and staff to receive their vaccine, get their $100 from the state, and help our campus’s student population reach the 70% vaccination mark.

After speaking, all attendees were invited to retrieve some soup that marked the beginning of homecoming week. Greek life had booths set up and were assisting with hosting the event, which involved dishing the food out. Carly Trzebiatowski, the President of Phi Mu, said it’s exciting to get Greek Life back together, “I know that Greek life on our campus is a fun thing for people to be a part of, and it’s exciting to share it with everyone.” Laney Hayward, Phi Mu’s vice president, is excited that Greek Life is leaving an impact on this year’s homecoming: “It’s something that we’re really looking to grow, even being a small school, so just bringing recognition that on a small campus we have really successful Greek Life.”

The atmosphere of the event was happy and excited. Students that are back in person are looking forward to reconnecting with their peers and creating more memories. Joshua Anton, a UWRF junior and Hawthorn Hall Resident Assistant (RA), brought some of his residents to the event and was excited to have some bean soup. Emma Erb, also a UWRF junior and one of Anton’s residents, said, “I think it’s really awesome how many people showed up. Especially after COVID, just seeing everybody out and about is just a great time.”

Bridgette Ledferd, a UWRF junior, said she is happy the tradition is back: “I really like seeing all the students get together and make those connections we had trouble creating last year. Students from all different social groups are talking and getting to know each other. It’s just a really good show of how our students care about each other.” 

UWRF alumni Andrew Turner also attended the event; he said he heard about it through social media, like Facebook and Snapchat, and from a few friends. He said he attended the event this year not only for the bean soup, stating, “I really appreciate the community and everything about it, and it really brings people together.”

Sophia Forliti, a UWRF senior, extensively researched the history of the tradition a month before homecoming in 2019. The history of bean soup can be traced back to the 1920s. Professor Jake P. Jacobson, a former physics professor who started teaching in 1915, who then became the advisor for the YMCA a few years later, started a “bean soup party.” At the time, the event was for men only; they would get together for bean soup and do group activities. Forliti described one activity they did called kangaroo court: they would accuse different people of doing random things, then hold a mock court session. 

The bean soup parties became an annual part of the YMCA for several years. When World War II began, and a lot of men had been drafted, the University was made up of mostly women. The lack of bodies at the University led to the gradual fade of the bean soup tradition. Then in the late 1940s, Professor Jacobson retired, and bean soup had stopped completely. 

Fast forward to 1956, where during homecoming, the University was hosting a “winter carnival,” and bean soup was provided by Professor Thorvald Thorson. Thorson and Jacobson were close friends, and Jacobson passed his recipe onto Thorson. Bean soup was only served at the winter carnival that year, and wasn’t made again for another several years. 

Then in 1976, during homecoming’s Parent Day, Thorson still had Jacobson’s recipe, and he decided to bring back bean soup. This went on for another decade or so, where he would make the soup in a large cauldron and serve it to students and their parents. When he died in 1995, no record of the bean soup tradition continuing can be found, until homecoming of 2019. There is a wooden paddle that Thorson wrote the bean soup recipe on the back of, and it did make an appearance at this years’ bean soup event. It can be found in the campus Archives, and Forliti says “that’s one of the things in the Archives you can take out and actually touch since it's still in such good condition.”

The original bean soup recipe was not served at this year’s event. Forliti says the recipe for the soup changes depending on the chef. This year, Chartwells catering made the soup, prepared the buns, and made homemade butter. 

Greek Life’s role in the bean soup tradition is relatively new. Forliti said that in 2019, “Greek Life wanted an event during homecoming, so Student Involvement gave it to them. They ended up being in charge of providing people to serve the bean soup, and they were also allowed to set up recruitment stuff there.” 

This year's homecoming kickoff with bean soup has a long, winding history, and continues to bring people together over a century later.

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