Susan Lampert Smith: The story behind Art’s Pole at Picnic Point

At the end of Picnic Point, there is a pole. And on that pole, there is on plaque, and on that plaque, there hangs a tale. It’s a story of friendship and sweat, and of the rituals that bring people together on campus, writes Susan Lampert Smith.

The plaque is mottled with corrosion but you can still read: “Touch Here for an Official Picnic Point Run. Art 1996.” Go look now, because it won’t be there for long.

It memorializes Art Hove and the rest of his running gang. Memorialize might be an indelicate word, since, as Art likes to point out, most of the original group is “still on the right side of the grass.”

If you’ve worked out at the Natatorium or walked along the Lakeshore Path in the last 30 or so years, you’ve probably seen them, a group of old guys talking faster than they jog.

These days, they’re more often seem walking, but as Art says, “At our age, just showing up is what counts.”

The group has been running regularly for more than three decades and includes Hove, a retired special assistant to the chancellor, and other UW campus retirees: Seymour Parter, from mathematics; Frank Kooistra, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Paul Williams, plant pathology; and Anton TenWolde, Forest Products Laboratory. The late Sheldon Rose, of social work, was a member for many years.

At a big campus like this, it’s unlikely a plant scientist would be hanging out with a mathematician, but a love of running brought them together.

“In our younger years, we’d run five miles a day, five days a week,’’ says Hove, who used to keep a diary of the issues they discussed while running. Their routes included “Kendall,” through the Regent neighborhood, “the Arb,” which took them through the UW Arboretum, and a hilly course through Shorewood Hills known as the “Pigeon Run,’’ for a time one of the runners was attacked by an angry bird.

Hove has been on campus since the 1950s, first as a student, then, after military service, as editor of the Wisconsin alumni magazine (now On, Wisconsin!) and during the 1970s and 1980s, as the assistant to UW presidents and chancellors ranging from Fred Harvey Harrington to John Wiley.

Hove has lived UW history, and likes to say that “everyone I used to know is now a building or a street.” He learned Shakespeare from Helen C. White (library), drama from Ronald Mitchell (theater) and served Chancellor Irving Shain (chemistry tower). Some of his old compatriots have even had their buildings torn down: A.W. Peterson (registrar) and E.B. Fred (bacteriology), or renamed, as in the case of the former Elvehjem museum. (Hove lifted Conrad Elvehjem’s stretcher the day the former UW president suffered his fatal heart attack.) Hove, who retired in 1996, didn’t get a building or a street. He got something more fitting from his running buddies: a plaque that commemorates the official turning point of a Picnic Point run.

They affixed it to a utility pole that holds the signal light that warns Lake Mendota boats of the approach of foul weather. And with the lovely council ring now gracing the tip of the point, the pole is being replaced by a less obtrusive solar model that doesn’t mar the view.

But Bill Barker, chairman of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve Committee, says he recognizes the historical importance of the Art’s plaque, and promises that it will be remounted somewhere near the end of the point. As campus runners know, a Picnic Point run is five miles if you start and end at Memorial Union and three miles if you start at the Natatorium. And if you don’t touch the plaque, it doesn’t count.