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September 10, 2012 10:16 PM

Planning 100 Years Of Hobo Day

Brookings, SD

When you hear the marching band, see the crowds and take in the sense of school spirit, remember that it takes a year of planning to make it all happen.

"My favorite moment of every Hobo Day is about 9:30 a.m.  We're standing on Medary Avenue; the parade is on the street.  The Pride of the Dakotas marching band heads south on Medary toward Woodbine Cottage to perform for the president and the parade has begun," Director of Student Engagement Director Nick Wendell said.

If you take the time to track Hobo Day to its beginning, you will find there is much more to the celebration than what you see and hear.

"Hobos rode the rails and so in the early part of the 20th Century, Hobos were a prevalent part of the American as was rail travel," Wendell said.

Brookings was one of many towns that were railroad hubs.  Like the railroads, Hobo-centric celebrations were present in many places throughout the country.  A strong school tradition, however, was absent from South Dakota State University.  A student brought back this concept from University of Missouri, and SDSU's Hobo Day was born in the fall of 1912. 

"Initially, there was some resistance from administrators and community leaders that Hobo Day wasn't the most appropriate way to celebrate our university.  Over time, the community and the institution really embraced Hobo Day," Wendell said.

Similar celebrations have faded, and now SDSU's Hobo Day is the only one celebrated at a university/higher education facility.  Each year is important, but the stakes are especially high for October 27, which marks the 100 Years of Hobo Day.  Wendell and Abby Settje, the Grand Pooba, are focusing on what made Hobo Day the biggest one-day event in the Dakotas.  Beloved gems like Bum Olympics to Bum-A-Meal, where students dressed as hobos to get a free meal from someone in town, are week-long events leading up to the big day.  A 1912 Model T Ford is also a popular nod to a storied past.

"We always like to think people love us.  In all reality, it's the Bummobile," Settje said.

A former Grand Pooba himself, and involved for last ten years, Wendell said the 100 years of Hobo Day is not just about nostalgia.

"But also find new and fresh ways to invigorate the student base because ultimately the beauty of Hobo Day is it always has been student run and it's always been a student-centered celebration and I think that's why it's remained fresh and why it is still here," Wendell said.

It is, at its heart, a way to bring students together and better link them to the university.  Plus, when else it is acceptable to do this:

"There's bumover.  Students are invited to one of the greens on campus to build little shanties out of cardboard, kind of like a hooverville with burn barrels, music.  It is kind of like an outdoor festival," Settje said.

Students, faculty and alumni have all been working together on ideas like these to ignite school pride at SDSU and all over the state.  Over the years, participation has fluctuated, and a riot more than 20 years ago left a bad taste in a lot of mouths.  However, the true spirit of the Hobo Day is alive and very well.

"It's not like being a bum and being lazy or anything like that.  When the university picked it up, it was because hobos truly were hard workers and they didn't travel down the same path as everyone else.  They kind of paved their own way.  Didn't conform to society.  They chose their own life," Settje said.

Hobo Day, or sometimes referred to as Hobo Days, which makes Settje cringe, is on October 27 when the Jackrabbits play against Youngstown State of Ohio.  Settje hopes the staying power of the 100 Years of Hobo Day carries over into the next century.

"We're still celebrating it.  It's still the biggest one day event in the Dakotas and I think part of that is taking those timeless traditions and making sure you are still carrying them through today," Settje said.

But what it accomplishes for those who live for it every year is much bigger than any span of time.

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