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We Love Our Uglies!

Ugly pageantThe tradition of the Uglyman has a long history on campus. Much of it has changed over the years, but one thing that remains steadfast is the honor associated with the title.

The first Ugly
Initiated as a charity fundraising event in 1955 by the fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, the title of Uglyman has always been used with tongue-in-cheek humor. The Rev. Rowland De Peaux, ’48, adviser to the fraternity Sig Tau Gamma from 1967-2004, says, “Actually, most [Uglies] who were chosen were quite good-looking”. 

Alpha Phi Omega chapters in places like the University of Texas at Austin and Georgia Tech initially chose their Uglymen because of their ungainly appearances, dressing them up in wild costumes to highlight their worst features and encouraging poor hygiene habits during voting week. St. Norbert, on the other hand, has always bestowed a kingly air upon its Uglymen. 

Despite the crown, George Desmarais ’56, the first Uglyman on Campus, was skeptical. He humbly states, “I was told it was a popularity contest but I wasn’t sure about that. I wasn’t big man on campus by any means.” Each fraternity elected a candidate for Uglyman and the student body voted – a penny per vote – for the man they thought most deserved the title. 

Desmarais (receiving his crown, above) was given a trophy that he still has, inscribed with the words, ‘The Ugliest Man on Campus,’ to which Desmarais adds “beyond all other men on campus . . . priests not included.”

The changing years
One of the first elements of the tradition to morph, according to De Peaux, was that by the late 1960s, groups no longer used the Uglyman contest to raise funds for charity. In addition, women’s groups took over the election of Ugly candidates, with each sorority or independent social group heralding its own Ugly. To anchor the tradition, the event was celebrated during Winter Carnival. In 1999, when Winter Carnival was eliminated, the crowning of the Uglies was moved to Homecoming. 

In recent years, Uglies have been celebrated all year long. There is still an Ugly crowned during Homecoming (the Ugly for the women’s group that came in first place after a variety of competitions) but the emphasis is not placed on this one night. 

Joe Remitz Jr. ’01 was picked as the Untouchables’ Ugly in March of 2000. It remains one of the highlights of his senior year. “You were pretty much their mascot,” he says, “As an Ugly you participate in all their social events, their volunteer work, Homecoming activities, all of it. When they pick you it means that they want you to represent their group. It shows you’re of good character. When I looked around at the other Uglies, it made sense. They were great guys. It’s an honor to be a part of that.” 

Uglies today
Since 2003, choosing an Ugly has become serious business. John Seckel ’96 (Campus Center) coordinates ‘picking’ week each spring when members of each women’s group must sign up for a night to publicly choose their Ugly. The group that wins Homecoming gets first picking rights. Groups convene ahead of time, privately, to discuss candidates (often taking hours of discussion and debate) and then meet in the circle in front of Main Hall on the designated day and hour. They invite other groups to come, and many more students join in to watch the proceedings. 

According to John Sabo ’07 (Alumni & Parent Relations), the president and current Ugly of the women’s group run in and out of the crowd hoping to find the guy they’ve chosen as the new Ugly. After much hoopla, they throw their flag over him and bring him into the middle where the other members are waiting. The new Ugly is showered with balloons and gifts and then whisked away to celebrate. 

The Ugly Pageant
Another recent addition to the tradition is the Ugly Pageant. Held in the spring and harking back to its fundraising roots, the Ugly Pageant is sponsored by Theta Phi Alpha sorority to raise money for charity. Since approximately 2007, Uglies have competed against each other in four divisions: interview question, talent, swimsuit competition and dance. The Queens of the men’s independent social groups/fraternities act as judges. 

According to Cristi Burrill ’08 (Leadership Development), “It’s basically a competition to see who can be the most goofy. The swimsuit competition is particularly ridiculous in that some of the guys show up in Speedos or water wings or holding blow-up swim toys.” 

They certainly like to have a good time, says Burrill, but the men chosen as Uglies are respectable guys, “Many are president of their own social groups, tend to be very active on campus and are generally the people everyone knows on campus.” 

March 31, 2014