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Clipping of old newspaper on a blue background with the words Welcome Back Alumni.

Historic Homecoming: The Celebration of a Century

The University of Northern Colorado is commemorating a major milestone this year, celebrating a century of traditions, competitions, community, laughter and coming home.

The University of Northern Colorado is commemorating a major milestone this year, celebrating a century of traditions, competitions, community, laughter and coming home.  

This year’s celebration marks the 100th Homecoming for the university and features a week of activities and events, Oct. 9-15. Although the days of getting dressed to the nines to attend the football game or participating in the annual Hellzabruin talent show have evolved into different celebrations as student interests have changed, the central theme and tradition of community coming together and welcoming alumni back to campus is ever-present and timeless.  

As Lyndsey Crum, ’05, assistant vice president for Alumni Relations emphasizes, Homecoming is so much more than just a week of events. 

“Homecoming is the university’s tradition of celebrating our community. When we invite alumni to return to UNC and encourage current students to celebrate the community they share together every day,” said Crum.  

“And for the alumni who live far from the borders of campus, Homecoming is an open invitation and reminder that Once a Bear, Always a Bear. Of course, Greeley and northern Colorado would not be Bear Country if not for the thousands of alumni who remain in our local community, including the many alumni working with the Greeley-Evans School District, the City of Greeley, Banner Health, UC Health and businesses across the region.” 

Excerpts from UNC’s 1924 “Cache La Poudre” yearbook heralded the return of 400 then 7,000 alumni to the first Homecoming in 1923. Today, there are roughly 160,000 UNC alumni who have passed through the university since its founding in 1889.

The activities awaiting those who return to campus this year include class reunions, alumni get togethers, events for family and friends, a 5K race, a bonfire and fireworks and of course, the tailgate and football game.

“I am most excited to kick off the week with our Alumni Campus Employee Breakfast, Monday Oct. 9,” said Crum. “UNC happens to be a top employer of our own alumni and they deserve to be recognized and thanked for all that they do each day. Starting with a ‘thank you’ sets the stage for a warm and welcoming week of activities for students and alumni.”

A collage of Homecoming activity from the 1920's

Yearbook Homecoming pictures from the Cache la Poudre in 1928.

From the very first Homecoming, alumni have been welcomed back to campus with open arms. That message was especially meaningful in 1945 for the university’s “Welcome Back Vets” Homecoming celebration. As the student newspaper The Mirror, explained, behind the theme lies the loyalty, pride and love that the students held for their fellow Bears who were returning from World War 2. 

“Today, Homecoming is defined in its literal meaning—our boys have come home! Home from the wars! . . . Some will never come home. Let us not forget those men who aren’t with us today,” read the newspaper. “To you vets who can be with us we say, ‘Welcome Back, Vets’! It’s due to you that we may celebrate a 1945 Homecoming!” 

It was only one year after the inception of Homecoming that a lesser-known tradition grew its roots, too.

A collage from a 1950 yearbook that includes women dancing in a row

Yearbook Homecoming pictures from the Cache la Poudre in 1954.

Some alumni may still remember Hellzabruin, called “the Vaudeville show” until 1942, an annual talent show that for some was one of Homecoming’s most beloved events. Even though many of the most spirited and involved alumni from recent years draw a blank at the unfamiliar name, it has a striking similarity to one of today’s most popular traditions. 

Competing in Hellzabruin, students might sing their way through the competition or, as was the case in 1977, belly dance and lip sync to Thelma Houston.

Today’s Bear Sync competition could be seen as a continuation of Hellzabruin, with different talents on display as members of Greek life battle in a lip sync and choreographed competition. 

Fraternity and sorority members dressed in black and orange dancing together

2022 Bear Sync competition.

A large number of students wearing black and orange huddled together smiling

2022 Bear Sync competition.

A large group of students huddled together smiling

2022 Bear Sync competition.

Three students smiling and pointing at the camera

2022 Bear Sync competition.

In 1956, a new tradition was born from students collecting brooms to set on fire and walk through the streets with after Hellzabruin. The Broom Parade culminated with the lighting of the bonfire. Out of this broom collection grew the Broom King and Queen. When first-year students became responsible for collecting brooms for the parade. They decided to have some fun with it and stir up a little friendly competition. 

It started out that every dormitory would collect as many brooms as possible, then the women’s and men’s dormitories that collected the most brooms would elect a Broom King and Broom Queen to be crowned at Hellsaslidin, an annual dance, and lead the Broom Parade from Hellzabruin to the bonfire. 

People holding up brooms with fire on them

The Broom Parade in the 1950s.

Unfortunately, somewhere between 1956 and now, the Broom Parade, and with it the tradition of crowning the Broom King and Queen, ended. Whether because brooms are typically made of plastic now, a lack of interest or the danger of students parading through the streets with blazing broomsticks, the end of the Broom Parade is unknown. What hasn’t changed though is the lighting of the bonfire. Today, the bonfire is coupled with a fireworks display and a performance from UNC’s Pride of the Rockies Marching Band held the Friday night before the football game.  

Flashing forward to this year, UNC's 100th Homecoming is a culmination of a century’s worth of these traditions and the rich history of welcoming students, families, alumni and friends back to campus. To mark the occasion, the university is collecting as many alumni memories as possible to be a part of its Alumni Oral History Project. All alumni are invited and encouraged to share their fondest memories, favorite traditions and cherished stories from their time on campus. By next year’s Homecoming, there will be a compilation of alumni stories showcasing the treasured stories of alumni. 

Chris Cobb, ’03, M.A. ’09, Ph.D. ’14, executive director of Student Engagement is excited at the prospect of all the memories that will be made at this year’s Homecoming events. 

“I'm really excited about all the things we have to offer for Homecoming week because we have 20 or more events that will really get alumni and families involved, and not to mention students, of course,” said Cobb. 

All alumni, families and friends are welcome and encouraged to join in the Homecoming celebrations this year. Reminisce on their time on campus and the events they took part in as a student, and maybe even watch current students put a modern spin on those same events. For all we know, attendees could be watching a new UNC tradition take shape. 

– written by Tamsin Fleming

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