The first agenda item’s resolution at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting read more like a touching eulogy. Madison Common Council honored the late Leon Varjian by declaring Feb. 23, 2016 Leon Varjian Day.
Varjian died at age 64 from a heart attack in his New Jersey home last September. He was a well-known prankster on campus who began attending UW-Madison in fall 1977. Tuesday marked the 37th anniversary of one of his most famous pranks, which was putting a papier-mache Statue of Liberty on Lake Mendota.
Varjian was elected vice president of the Wisconsin Students Association as a member of the Pail and Shovel Party. He ran on the platform that, if elected, he would convert the university’s budget to pennies, dump them on Library Mall, and let students dig with a pail and shovel.
Other notable pranks of his were collecting signatures to rename UW-Madison “The University of New Jersey” so students could attend a prestigious East Coast school and covering Bascom Hill in over 1,000 pink flamingos. The pink flamingo is now the official city bird of Madison.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, read the full resolution before various community members had the opportunity to speak about Varjian.
“The Common Council of Madison recognizes the legacy, creativity and sense of humor of Leon Varjian on the cultural landscape of Madison,” Verveer said as he read the resolution. “And hereby proclaims February 23, 2016, to be Leon Varjian Day.”
After he read the resolution, Verveer introduced former alder and friend of Varjian, Nicole Gotthelf. She toted a Statue of Liberty costume over a “University of New Jersey” T-shirt while giving a short presentation that chronicled Varjian’s time in Madison.
“His legacy is creativity and joy. He took that joy and taught math to high school students for 27 years,” Gotthelf said. “He was enthusiastic and he made you laugh. And I think people who are a part of school during his time have this great memory of Leon.”