Tuesday, February 15, 2011
BING AND GONZAGA UNIVERSITY
Although Bing Crosby never graduated from Gonzaga University, he never forgot his time at the college. Throughout his life, Bing continued to give back as the university's most famous alumni. By the mid-1950s, Gonzaga was in need of a library building. Recognizing the importance of a good library, Bing was a major financial supporter. He contributed to the library building campaign by organizing a television show and giving the production rights to Gonzaga to secure funds for the library. The show, starring Bing, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Bob Hope, and Rosemary Clooney, was sponsored by the Ford Motor Company to introduce its new "car of the future". The Bing Crosby Edsel Show, aired on CBS on October 13, 1957 and received an Emmy Award. Although sponsored by the Ford Company, Crosby was able to remind his nation-wide audience that he was a “Gonzaga man” through some skits. Through his efforts a new $700,000 library was constructed and dedicated as a memorial to the Crosby family on November 3, 1957. On the occasion of the library dedication he said to the crowd of 5000: "If I am any kind of a success here or in show business, it is the result of the time I spent at Gonzaga in the elocution, the debating and the dramatic societies…. If I am a good Catholic, and I hope I am, it is directly attributable to the influence of the good priests here; and if I am successful, it is because of what I learned here…. I am tremendously grateful and I love this school and the people here.” In the audience were Bing’s new wife Kathryn and other family members. One room in the Crosby Library, now the Crosby Student Center, was set aside to display his memorabilia. Prior to and after the opening of the Crosby Library in 1957, Bing sent materials through his business manager and brother Larry for the Crosbyana Room. Bing sent his gold records, photographs, fan scrapbooks, records, trophies and citations, and even an Oscar, which he won in 1944 for best actor in “Going My Way”. These shipments of donations arrived as Bing earned the awards or citations until his death in 1977. In 1961 Bing narrated a promotional film for Gonzaga called “Take Gonzaga”. In this 30-minute color film, Bing gave advice to his young male caddy about the importance of getting a college degree before trying to become a professional golfer. The film was designed to highlight Gonzaga’s forthcoming 75th anniversary, which would be celebrated in 1962. On Saturday, March 9, 1968, Crosby returned to Spokane to participate in a special academic convocation. This was his first appearance on the Gonzaga campus in eleven years. Bing arrived via private plane owned by 3M. Nathaniel 6, Mary Frances 8, and Harry Crosby 9, Bing’s three children from his second marriage, joined him. Bing’s wife Kathryn was unable to come as she was in a play in Florida. At this academic convocation held at the Kennedy Pavilion, Bing through 3-M presented Gonzaga University a microfilm research collection and three 3-M microfilm machines. This microfilmed collection gave Gonzaga selective access to the 4.3 million volumes in the New York Public Library as well as making copies of the projected page in six seconds! 3-M company officials were on hand to install the machines. As a surprise, Gonzaga honored alumnus and regent Bing Crosby with its highest award, the DeSmet Medal. The medal is named for a Jesuit missionary, Father Pierre Jean DeSmet. More than 2,000 people attended the dedication and ceremony, which coincided with Parent’s Weekend. Bing and Kathryn came to Spokane in 1974 to participate in Expo ’74, the World’s Fair. He came to Gonzaga campus and met with students. Bing died in Madrid, Spain after completing 18 holes of golf on October 14, 1977. News of his death spread quickly around the Gonzaga campus. The flag was flown at half-mast, and all over campus students asked, “Did you hear that Bing Crosby died?” The student body thought of Crosby as “Uncle Bing” a generous benefactor of their university and a talented entertainer. A citywide memorial Mass was held at St. Aloysius Church, where Bing once served as an altar boy. Fr. Art Dussault, Bing’s former classmate and friend, delivered the homily for the Memorial Mass. A cash bequest of $50,000 from Bing’s estate was placed in an endowment fund at Gonzaga University and at Gonzaga High School. The fund’s earnings are used annually to support many important budgetary needs, like salaries, scholarships, computer resources and building improvements. By the time of his death, he had given the University and High School over one million dollars. In 1980, the Gonzaga Alumni Association bought Bing’s boyhood home for $60,000 from the Higgins Family, who were only the second owners of the house. Called the Crosby Alumni House, it now houses the university’s alumni association. On the main floor, there are displays of Crosby memorabilia. A bronze statue sculpted by local artist Deborah Copenhaver was placed at the Crosby library's main entrance and dedicated on his birthday on May 3, 1981. The piece is a faithful construction of the Crosby image, portraying the late singer in a semi-standing position with the right forearm resting on the right knee. On his head is the familiar hat and golf bag with clubs, which rests next to him. Kathryn Crosby, Rich Little, and other celebrities attended the dedication ceremonies. Bob Hope talked via telephone broadcast. Although Bing died over 30 years ago, he still has a presence at Gonzaga. Campus folklore tells the story that Bing Crosby was kicked out of Gonzaga because he threw a piano out of DeSmet Hall, an all boys dormitory. This event could not have happened, because Bing left campus in 1924 and the dormitory was not constructed until October 1925. After the Crosby bronze statue was dedicated in 1981, Crosby’s pipe kept being broken off and stolen. For security reasons, the pipe now is screwed in for special events and then removed soon after. In 1972, the Oscar was removed and replaced with a Mickey Mouse plastic figurine. Luckily, the student prank ended after 3 days when the Oscar was returned. There is a student a cappella group who call themselves the “Big Bing Theory.” Additionally, by the late 1980s, the Crosby Library could not keep up with the growing university and technological advances. Consequently, a new library was built. After the library moved into the Foley Center in 1992, the Crosby Library was converted into the Crosby Student Center. Here, students gather to get their mail, have meetings, and buy a latte at the Crosby Café. The building still houses the Crosbyana Room, where visitors can see his memorabilia. Bing gave Gonzaga much more than money; he gave the University his name, his loyalty and the credit for his success.