Many of the alumni who were in town this past weekend were Milton College football players. Many of those with whom the Milton Courier spoke to agreed they came to Milton College because Rudy Gaddini coached football. They kept going to school here because of Gaddini and they gathered on Saturday to pay tribute to their former coaches, especially Gaddini.
On the historic Milton College Campus at Main Hall, they reunited first at the Great Wildcat Tailgate.
Among the former football players was the son of Dan Devine, head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1971 to 1974. Gaddini played for Dan Devine (assistant coach at Michigan State University from 1950-54). Gaddini started at Michigan State in 1953, played on the 1956 Rose Bowl Championship team and graduated in 1957.
Dan Devine Jr. from Columbia, Missouri, arrived on campus in 1972. He said he liked being in Milton, enjoyed the people and the school and got a good education. In 1974 he set a school record with 12 receptions.
Commenting on Gaddini, Devine said, “Rudy just makes you feel like you’re part of the family.”
Richie Meudt came from Dodgeville to play defense and graduated from Milton College in 1980. Gaddini had coached Meudt’s high school coach, Myles Strasser. Today Meudt lives in New Jersey.
“Rudy’s like my second father,” Meudt said. “He gave me my character, my enthusiasm.”
He remembers Gaddini saying, “Act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthusiastic.”
Overall, there are so many adjectives to describe Gaddini, said Meudt, a retired major who served in the Army 22 years and worked in the gaming industry for 37.
Looking at those who had gathered on the historic Milton College campus, including Dave Krieg, an NFL quarterback for 19 years, Meudt said, “We’re all one big family. This is the football sports family. This is why Milton College was Milton College. It’s small, everybody knew everybody. It’s awesome.”
Jeff Wuerl from West Allis said he was a wide receiver and a senior when Krieg was a freshman.
Wuerl said Gaddini, back in the day, was called the Al McGuire of small college football.
“He’s quite a character,” Wuerl added.
“Rudy made football fun,” said Dan Melka, a tight end also from West Allis, who graduated in 1978. “He’s always positive, always upbeat. He’s something special.”
Greg “Homer” Levenick, who today lives in Waunakee, arrived at Milton College in 1975 and graduated in 1979. He said Gaddini taught him: “You can do anything you want to do.”
“He’s a great leader,” Levenick said.
Jean (Zielinski) Wollerman, who played volleyball, basketball and softball at Milton College, said, “He just drew everybody together. No matter who you were, he drew you into being a part of something.”
Bernie Mollet of Janesville worked for Gaddini in the athletic department as part of the work study program and today Gaddini has been Mollet’s insurance agent for 20 years.
Even after the school closed, Mollet said Gaddini tried to keep in touch with his players.
“It wasn’t just about the game,” said Linda Mollet, whose husband (and Bernie Mollet’s brother), Rick Mollet, played football.
When Gaddini meets his former football players, he told the Milton Courier, “The hard part is identifying them. They’re older. They put on weight.”
He then turned to tell one former player that he looks just like “his old man.”
When asked about why people said they came to Milton College, stayed, then returned Saturday, Gaddini referred to a moto of former Wildcat quarterback and coach Brian Bliese: “All roads lead in, none lead out.”
“Now with the round-abouts –” he said that statement is especially true.
What do the football players mean to Gaddini?
“They bring back memories of fun,” he said.
“Sports, they draw people together. You got a common cause and you walk away with some kind of value. To be part of a team, you’ve got to give up something of yourself. You have to subject yourself to the total good and what’s the mission? Not to lose or the coach loses his job.”