Arlie Mucks

Arlie Mucks, former executive director of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, wears his Badger hat during a pre-football event at Olin House. File#: 0011-214c-20

Jeff Miller

Arlie Mucks, the indefatigable promoter of UW-Madison, a retired fighter pilot who wore Bucky Badger pajamas even on road trips and who was a hard-nosed star football player before the days of face-masks on helmets, died Saturday at the age of 85.

It would surprise only those who met him at back-slapping alumni sports outings with his buddy Elroy Hirsch to discover Mucks was a successful bank director, organizational wonder-worker and an adjutant general.

When he retired in 1989 after 27 years as head of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, his knowledge of the state and its residents was so great that UW-Madison Chancellor Donna Shalala snapped him up as a special assistant.

"I loved Arlie Mucks. I did not have a better coach during my years in Wisconsin," said Shalala, now president of the University of Miami. I traveled everywhere in the state with him. He was just a great human being, a shrewd and very smart man."

"He could walk into a room and light it up with a smile, and all the Badgers would smile back. What he cared about most was selling the university. He sure loved his Badgers."

Mucks, born in South Dakota, came to Madison with his family in 1925. His father, Arlie Mucks Sr., was an accomplished athlete and a university professor who instilled in his son what Arlie Jr. once called a "responsibility to pay the civic rent."

He paid it for half a century, with interest.

Mucks played tackle -- number 66 -- on the university football team in 1940 and 1941, interrupted college for the Air Force, where he became a pilot, returning to get his degree in 1947. As early as 1950, he was recognized for what he later appropriately termed "civic zeal," earning one of the first of many "man of the year" type awards.

He joined the staff of the Madison Chamber of Commerce in 1953 and became director there -- while serving as commandant of a Truax Field-based Air National Guard squadron -- before joining the Wisconsin Alumni Association in 1962.

Long-time co-worker Gayle Langer, who took over the WAA briefly after his retirement, said Monday that part of Mucks' secret was he believed in what he was selling.

"He had the ability to really make a person feel just as good as he did about all those institutions, the university, the state and the city," she said.

As the WAA executive director during the university's turbulent 1960s and 1970s, Mucks refused to let protests and demonstrations stop the university's alumni activities -- against the wishes of some, recalled Langer.

In 1968, Mucks met that controversy by using his Wisconsin Alumnus magazine to profile two right-wing campus organizations "to speak up for the other side," and also to editorialize against "the disruptive activities of the minority."

Mucks was instrumental in creating the University Singers in the 1960s, a group of students who appear on behalf of the university at events around the state and country.

Mucks also worked to create a nationwide organization of alumni group executives and was a constant source for media on sports and alumni topics. When Elroy Hirsch was named to rebuild the Athletic Department in 1969, he hooked up with Mucks to tour the state in a red station wagon promoting the university.

Mucks was a magician at raising money for various university and alumni projects. When the Badgers went to the 1963 Rose Bowl, the state decided not to allocate any money for a Wisconsin float in the Rose Parade. It took Mucks and others two days to raise the $20,000 needed for a float, which won a prize.

Mucks, a master of ceremonies for any civic group that needed one, did not always wear red pants, Langer confirmed.

"The red jacket showed up right away," she said. But the red pants, with little white "W"s sewn along the seams, appeared later in his WAA term, when the group decided to roll out a line of alumni-targeted clothing. It took longer, but he eventually abandoned his trademark crewcut, too.

Tom Butler, a longtime newspaper sports reporter who covered the Badgers, said a key to Mucks' enthusiasm was "he was genuine.

"A lot of people used to make fun of him, he was so gung-ho for the university. But he was sincere."

Mucks is survived by his wife, Mary Alice, and three sons.

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