Rowers celebrate 25th anniversary and Milwaukee-Downer heritage

On Saturday, Spet. 28, the Lawrence Rowing Team hosted the LU Rowing Anniversary party, celebrating 25 years of the club sport’s presence at Lawrence and nearly 70 years of Milwaukee-Downer College rowing history.
Senior Will Melnick, boatmaster, explained that Milwaukee-Downer students were required to take part in an athletic pursuit and crew was one of two sports offered. With more than half of the student body participating, they had a flourishing program from their start in1902. On their 1964 consolidation with Lawrence College, which did not have a crew program, it was deemed too expensive to bring up Milwaukee-Downer’s shells and continue the program. Crew was finally reinstated in 1989, and has had a presence on campus ever since.
The opportunity to celebrate the LU Rowing anniversary has lead to more awareness of the incredible history Milwaukee-Downer has in connection to the sport. Any person who has been in the library will have noticed the Katie hanging above the reference section on the first floor. An eight-person shell measuring fifty-five feet long, the Katie was relegated to the rafters of a barn for 41 years after Milwaukee-Downer combined with Lawrence.
Senior Olivia Gruebel, president of LU Rowing, is glad to be bringing attention to the traditions inherited from Milwaukee-Downer rowing and particularly from Althea Heimbach. Althea Heimbach started coaching at Milwaukee-Downer in 1933, and was there for 41 years until the two colleges merged. “Being an athletic coach at the time was rare, and being a female coach was practically unheard of, especially in rowing, which was such a male-dominated sport. But she did it, and was there for 41 years, and was a really awesome, incredible lady,” said Grubel.
Since Lawrence has such a strong history and an equally strong rowing program, why is rowing still a club sport? Due to the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Title IX, the school cannot provide funding for a men’s crew team. The women’s team has been offered the opportunity to be recognized as a varsity team but LU Rowing decided not to go in that direction in order to maintain the unity and closeness of their sport. That means they have to do more of their own fundraising, but they are willing pay that cost to avoid splitting the team in half.
As a tribute to Rik and Margot Warch, the team brought the gigantic eight-seater shell named in their honor to the campus center for the celebration. The team purchased the shell after a generous donation from the couple that made its purchase possible.