UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

‘Mr. Commencement’ becomes ‘Mr. Potato’ this week

Potato Bowl USA Week is here, and former UND Director of Ceremonies Fred Wittmann is parade’s grand marshal

Fred Wittmann, a longtime director of ceremonies & university events, will be the grand marshal for this year’s KEM Shrine Potato Bowl parade through the downtowns of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Here he is pictured orchestrating a UND commencement event in 2018. UND photo.

Fred Wittmann, former director of ceremonies & university events, who retired recently after a 44-year career and a 50-year association with the University, will be the grand marshal for this year’s KEM Shrine Potato Bowl parade through the downtowns of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

The parade is a signature event of Potato Bowl USA Week, an annual celebration of the importance of spuds in the Red River Valley.

While at UND, Wittmann presided over more than 130 commencement ceremonies and countless other important events, with a meticulous eye for detail, a clock smith’s sense of timing and a head school master’s adherence to schedule.

The KEM Shrine Potato Bowl Parade begins at 10 a.m., on Saturday, Sept. 9, and follows a route along DeMers Avenue in downtown Grand Forks-East Grand Forks. Afterward check out, football tailgating on the Alerus Center grounds. The game is set to kick off at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

In addition to his parade marshaling duties, Wittmann will have the honor of flipping the coin ahead of the UND Fighting Hawks-Northern Arizona Lumberjacks football tilt at 3 p.m., on Saturday at Alerus Center. Wittmann is slated to be joined on the field by his granddaughter, Clara.

Wittmann grew up on a farm near Wheatland in southeastern North Dakota and graduated from high school in Casselton, N.D. Shortly after coming to UND, he took a part-time job on campus, doing office work and leading tours for incoming students and their parents.

One of those tours included his future wife, MaryLou. They’ve been married 45 years and have two daughters, Chelsea and Karina.

Check out the rundown of all this year’s Potato Bowl USA events, with the week at a glance, including the parade, tailgating and the big football game.

Come out to University Park on Thursday (Sept. 7) for the “World’s Largest French Fry Feed” by Simplot, part of the 57th Annual Potato Bowl USA week in Grand Forks-East Grand Forks. UND archival photo.

French fry frenzy

Saturday’s parade is only a part of Potato Bowl USA  Week, which is in its 57th rendition this year. The week is always packed with family fun, food and football.

One of the traditional highlights, the World’s Largest French Fry Feed by Simplot, will start serving things up at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7 in University Park. There, you’ll will be sure to get your fill of deep-fried potato goodness in the form of free French fries. Also planned is the Red Door Pediatric Therapy Potato Bowl Kids Fun Zone, potato sack races, food and beverage concession stands, live DJ music, a French Fry Eating Contest and an opportunity to meet the Fighting Hawks football team. University Park is located just each of the UND Campus on University Avenue — within walking distance of residence halls, Greek Housing and family apartments.


On Sept. 24, 1966, the very first Potato Bowl football game was played at old Memorial Stadium, formerly located on campus on the corner of 2nd Avenue North and North Columbia Road. UND walloped Idaho State University by a wide margin in that game. That first game was billed as a battle between two of the largest potato growing regions in the United States (Idaho and the Red River Valley). UND is 43-13 Potato Bowl games all time.  The idea for creating a week of festivities to celebrate potatoes and football was the brainchild people such as Earl Strinden, former executive vice president of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, former UND Athletics Director Len Marti, former head football Coach Marv “Whitey” Helling, assistant football coach Jerry Olson and sports information director Lee Bohnet.

Fan Luncheon

The UND Fan Luncheon, sponsored by the UND Booster Board, is back on campus this week, Friday, Sept. 8, in the Memorial Union.

Doors open at 11:30 a.m., in the second floor ballrooms of the Memorial Union. There will be food ($15/plate — cash or check only, payable to UND Booster Board) and speakers from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m., followed by a UND pep rally to get set for the week’s UND athletics events. The luncheon and pep rally will be hosted this week by UND Fighting Hawks play-by-play commentator and UND alumnus Brian Shawn.

UND Fan Luncheons are always open to all UND Fighting Hawks fans — students, staff, faculty and the entire community. Select luncheons, such as the one on Friday, will take place at the Memorial Union, in the heart of campus, as a way to facilitate closer connections to the UND community.

Go Hawks!