Then: Wildcat Warm-up

The cold and snowy months in the Midwest are notoriously brutal, but Northwestern students have learned to embrace Evanston winters.

Or at least contestants in the Red Hot Lover Contest did. The kissing contest — with ChapStick for each entrant and dinner for two on the line — was one of the highlights of the first Winter Warmth Week in February 1975.

Sponsored by the Associated Student Government, Wildcat Council and several other campus organizations, the festivities included the very first University-sanctioned bonfire on the lakefill, hot chocolate stands, skating parties, a student-faculty tug-of-war on Deering Meadow and, of course, ice cream.

“During the doldrums of February, when those winter winds blow off the lake, you just needed something to smile about,” says Barb Lebedun Brandess (C77), publicity co-chair for the 1976 Winter Warmth Week.

The event was so successful that it continued until 1978, when the Wildcat Council organizers brought back the kissing contest and offered a computer dating service during the Valentine’s Day–themed event.

“Winter Warmth Week was developed as a friendly surviving-winter thing, because a lot of kids were new to winter,” says former Wildcat Council president Bambi Holzer (C79), who now lives in Los Angeles. “Basically we made a party out of winter. We really lifted students’ spirits.”

In 1979 the event was replaced by Winterfest, which featured more music and, presumably, more beer, thanks to a sponsorship from Budweiser. Winterfest was held until 1984.

When 20 inches of snow covered the Evanston campus in January 1979, just a few weeks before Winterfest, the University canceled classes for two days (just the third snow cancellation in Northwestern history). Students played snow badminton, cross-country skied on the frozen lakefill and pelted one another with snowballs in the fraternity quads. The Daily Northwestern headline read, “Snowy times bring out best of NU.”

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