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Bucky List: Where in the World is Wendorf?

Jeff Wendorf ’82, WAA’s most-traveled host, shares five of his favorite trips.

Jeff Wendorf (left) raises a glass with former UW band director Mike Leckrone (right) while on the Danube River Cruise trip with WAA.

Having logged miles on more than 25 international trips and a seemingly endless number  of excursions to support Badger athletics, Vice President of Advancement Jeff Wendorf ’82 is the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s most-traveled trip host. As host, Jeff is responsible for working with travel partners and local experts to advocate for the wants and needs of guests, but his most important duty is infusing Badger spirit along the way. Here, he’s thumbed through his passport to share a few of his most favorite WAA travel memories.

If I’m thinking about memorable trips, going down the Danube River with Mike Leckrone, the former band director, was one of them. He had recently retired, and when you’ve been doing a job for 50 years and suddenly that stops, you need something to fill your time. So, I said, “Come on, Mike, let’s go. People want to see you.” We decided to do a Danube River cruise and invited all alumni, but we particularly reached out to band alumni and donors. The Danube is one of those classic trips that everybody should do. We spent a few days in Prague and then hopped to Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria. There were about 50 [to] 60 of us that were on the trip.

The great thing is, like a lot of the band alumni or members of the band, we love to have fun. Every night after dinner, we would all go up into the lounge to play music and have a giant sing-along. The house band came in, and all the Badgers were there. We’d dance through the night. After that trip, the house band is going, “Nobody on these trips stays up long enough to dance.”

One of the nights, our Czech alumni chapter in Prague hosted a reception. Everyone got together to sing “Varsity” and “On, Wisconsin,” and our travelers could talk to the locals and see where they would suggest that we go and learn a little bit more about the culture from somebody who’s had a lived experience there. That trip was particularly fun because we had a group of eager travelers who were up for everything that was going on. My time in the band and my relationship with Mike and all the former band members are seminal to my love and admiration of the university. It was just so spirited, and to be able to do that trip in that capacity was so fun.

This was a super active trip, with daily hiking, swimming, and snorkeling. There would be times when we’d be sailing along, and there would be a pod of orcas, and they’d change the itinerary to go find them and look at whales or massive schools of dolphins. I hosted it with my oldest son, who was about 10 at the time, so seeing it through the eyes of my son and the other kids there was great.

What also made this trip memorable for me was that it was part of the genesis of Grandparents University. This was a family trip, so the thought was that you would have parents and their kids coming. When we got on the trip, about a third of the group were kids between the ages of 7 and 14, but I was the only parent, and the rest were grandparents.

During the sesquicentennial celebration (150th), we made connections with campus outreach specialists, and then the division of extension approached us to help them out with a program structured for grandparents who were caregivers for their grandkids. Those three things evolved and collided to become Grandparents University.

A few years later, I took another family trip to Switzerland, where we stayed at a great resort, and the trip included parents, grandparents, and kids. It was a spin on the college abroad type of trip WAA does, where you stay in one place, unpack your bags, and then do day trips out to a lot of other places. We would hop on a train during the day, go to a different part of Switzerland, and come back and have meals at night. Switzerland is just one of those places that you can’t get enough of.

I brought my youngest son this time, and he had an idea to do a hike on one of the free days, so we worked with our travel director to plan the route. Everyone made sandwiches at breakfast, and we set off on this spontaneous adventure into the Swiss Alps. Another highlight was our excursion to Bern, where we went to the Aare river during our free time. Another dad and I supervised about 25 kids who were having fun jumping into the river’s current, which carried them to a small beach area. I’ve been on three trips with Switzerland in the itinerary, but that one was memorable.

Another favorite was French Polynesia. Once again, the passengers just totally made that trip. There were a couple of people that we had traveled with before, but we made some lifelong friends.

While we had a sea day aboard the ship, it was also Crazylegs Classic day back in Madison. We had an active group of Badgers and decided to celebrate by doing our own Crazylegs run/walk on the ship’s back deck. Afterward, we went to the bar and got them to bring bratwurst and beer, and we had a great Wisconsin celebration. On that trip, just so many other passengers were saying, “Hey, can we join you?” The Wisconsin cohort was always the most noticeable one, the most out-there and [the one that] seemed to be having the most fun.

And, of course, we were in French Polynesia doing things like snorkeling with stingrays. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to do that at a time when the coral reefs in those areas were abundant with lots of fish, and there wasn’t any damage being done to them. We saw about eight islands: Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Bora Bora, Tahiti, and Rangiora. All these are amazing places.

Every single Oceania trip with [WAA] has been remarkable, but that one was special because of the friendships we made on it. There are about half a dozen couples that we still see today or have traveled with since then.

I’ve been to 30 bowl games in my lifetime, but it’ll be a surprise to no one that nothing compares to the 1994 Rose Bowl. It was such a massive undertaking, with 20 planes and 7,000 Badgers coming to Southern California.

Another fun one was the 1999 Rose Bowl. I remember it because everybody was concerned that the next day, with Y2K, everything would be crashing. The night before the game, which back then was always played on New Year’s Day, was our big New Year’s Eve celebration. It was an elaborate affair with candelabras and dancing and several courses of food, and people would wear black tie, that type of thing. I brought my tux and my wife, Cathy, brought her black dress. Every day at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, you could leave your shoes out, and they would shine them and then bring them back to you. We put our shoes out, but the following day, there was the paper, the coffee, and no shoes. Finally, I get a call maybe three or four hours later, and the person down there says, “Mr. Wendorf, we have looked up and down this hotel. Your shoes are nowhere to be found. We are really sorry.” And so I’m going, “Oh my god, where do I get tux shoes? Where does my wife go to get shoes?” And he tells me, “Mr. Wendorf, you’re on Rodeo Drive.” He goes, “You go get your new shoes, bring us back the bill, and we’ll pay for your shoes.”

Everybody, of course, heard about this story, so on the dance floor that night, they cleared out as we danced with our new shoes to “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Where to Next?

Some of the places on my bucket list that I haven’t gone to are Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and Japan. I love to bike and hike, so one trip I’d love to do that is on my list is to bike or hike Mont Blanc. Hosting an Oktoberfest trip with Robin Shepard PhD’93, our beer expert, would be super fun as well.

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