“Scanner Dan” Mathison is a celebrity on the University of Wisconsin campus, but his personal life is not as well known as his scanning capabilities.
Mathison said his nickname “was not meant to be a joke,” although he currently owns two scanners. He said a criminal and former UW student gave him the nickname back in the 1980s after Mathison heard the police alert on his scanner and then showed up to watch police pull the man over.
“I was right there because I had been listening, so he called me ‘Scanner Dan,’” Mathison said.
A 44-year-old sorority member, Mathison said he spends every single day at the Union or on State Street because he is a “lazy damn bum.”
“I just watch the people walk around,” Mathison said. Students said Mathison seems to memorize the face and name of everyone he meets, calling out to people as they pass by.
“I love you,” Mathison yelled to UW senior Jennifer Hayman, one of the many sorority sisters he calls his wife.
Hayman said Mathison remembered her name after someone mentioned it only once in his presence, and other students corroborated that Mathison never forgets a name.
“He remembers my name from someone yelling it across the street,” UW senior Andy Abeles said.
Mathison said he is an honorary member of every sorority on campus, a result of meeting the girls on State Street. He said Delta Gamma was the first to induct him into their sorority in 1980. Today, one sorority pays for the maid service in his Greenway Cross apartment on Madison’s East side and another provides him with a student union membership.
“All the fraternity guys are jealous of me because I’ve got girls and they don’t,” Mathison said.
Mathison said he loves college students, and he especially gets a kick out of them during exam week.
“They’re kinda goofy sometimes; exam week is hilarious,” Mathison said. “It’s a hair-pulling contest. They get so darn stressed out, it’s funny to watch.”
In contrast, Mathison’s lifestyle is as relaxed a life as could be. On a typical day, he said he watches TV — preferably World War II movies — before catching two buses to reach State Street and the Union.
“I get my scanner ready, I get my pipe tobacco and I come down here. Then I sit around and do nothing,” Mathison said. Laughing and calling himself a bum, Mathison said he rarely showers, stinks, and has a nasty sunburn and rotten teeth.
“But that doesn’t bother me,” he said.
However, Mathison said he has held jobs in the past as a dishwasher, a janitor and a Hilldale deli employee.
In addition to World War II movies, Mathison said he enjoys Badger football, the Packers, the Brewers and the stand-up comedy of George Carlin.
Seniors at the Union said they have gotten attached to Mathison.
“I’m gonna miss seeing him around next year,” Hayman said.