Where do you start, after siting through such an amazing and wonderful memorial service for Coach Ara Parseghian? Previous to Sunday’s service, I had only been to one other sponsored event and that was the ND Football Gala. Hands down Notre Dame knows how to throw a celebration. Whether it’s for a sports team or for a memorial such as today.
(Guest post by George Bashura)
The Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center was just amazing. A blue backdrop with pictures of Coach Parseghian. From left to right was a picture of Coach and the late Father Hesburgh, center was Coach on the cover of Time Magazine and the last was Coach and the Parseghian family. The stage was set by two large floral bouquet of white flowers on the left and right hand side with the Notre Dame podium in the center. Peter Schivarelli, Gregory P Crawford, Dr. Lou Holtz and Digger Phelps would speak from the podium. Each one had their own story of Coach Parseghian and how he influenced their lives.
Peter Schivarelli Class of ‘71, reflected on when he first met Coach. It started in 1964 when a friend of Peter’s was on the team. Peter would visit with his friend who was on the team. Peter then saw Coach a few years later and Coach had asked him if he had gone onto college and he replied no. Coach said “why don’t you apply to Notre Dame and the try out for the football team as a walk on.” Peter was quite surprised that he could actually do that, he did and he made the team. Peter also reflected on Coach’s “we have no breaking point” philosophy, and also on “make sure you are getting your education because even the best of you can lose fame in a few years.” Peter also reflected on his last game at the Cotton Bowl. They had pumped him up in the press as to not have competition amongst the other players on the team. By the way, Peter was in the band Chicago, and a $1 from every ticket goes to Coach Parseghian’s charity, even today.
Gregory P Crawford, President of Miami (OH) University spoke next on Coach Parseghian. He spoke of his conversation with Coach on becoming the next President of Miami (OH) and Coach said “I guess there is only one place I would let you go”. This is because this is where Coach had gone to school and was the Head Coach. Gregory said, “Coach was the example of a Miami Alma Mater slogan, ‘sturdy hearted, pure of soul;’ that was Coach Parseghian. Coach was also an example of the University motto translated from Latin ‘Achieve without being conspicuous.'” Coach and Gregory worked together to find a cure for NPC in which three of Coach’s grandchildren were stricken with. Gregory was a physicist. Gregory recalled one time seeing Ara sign a football “Best Wish,” no wishes plural, that wish is the best of all. And lastly Gregory reflected on when Coach and his wife arrived aboard “Red Hawk One.” Coach was going to receive the Presidents Medal, in which he was the first to receive the honor. Gregory closed with, “You will forever be our Coach; you will forever be my Coach.”
Coach’s reach extended beyond sports. Coach’s Daughter-In-Law had been contacted by singer Amy Grant to see if she could help in the NPC effort. Cindy didn’t refuse. Amy could not make it this afternoon to the memorial service. So her husband said, “honey I will do it.” Her husband is Vince Gill. As he put it, he was pinch-hitting for her. Vince reflected on his time with Coach, and then Vince sang a song he co-wrote with Amy, “Threaten me with Heaven.”
Next to speak was the legendary Dr. Lou Holtz. The arena was filled with the chants of LLLLOOOUUU. Forever, I have wanted to hear Coach Lou Holtz speak. Unfortunately, it was under these circumstances. But we don’t know how we will meet someone and under what circumstances. However, today was the day I would hear him speak for the first time. Coach looked to Ara as a role model and friend. Coach wanted to make sure we all knew that we are not there to mourn Coach Ara, we are there to celebrate him. Coach Holtz asked the question “If we didn’t show up, who would miss us and why?” “Had Ara not shown up, so many people would have missed him because of his insight, his love, his feeling and caring for people.” Coach talked about choices. Ara made great choices, he married Katie, he entered the coaching profession, he chose to serve his country, he graduated from college and went on to get his Master’s Degree, and championed so many great causes.” Coach Lou goes on to quote Father Hesburgh from Quotable Notre Dame, “I would have to say hiring Ara Parseghian was one of the smartest things we did at Notre Dame.” He then goes on to quoting Coach Parseghian, “I can honestly say the greatest period of my life and my family’s life was my time at Notre Dame. My loyalty to and respect for Notre Dame will always be part of me.” Coach finishes up with the Dash. “The dash between your birth and death. The dash represents the person’s life and that will always last. People may forget your birth and death, but they will never forget your dash. People will never forget Ara Parseghian.” Coach thanked him for his impact on his life and how those influences impacted those around him.
Last but not least was Richard “Digger” Phelps. Digger recollected back to 1965 when he wrote a letter to Ara stating, “I love Notre Dame, I love the essence of Notre Dame and what you are doing with Notre Dame Football, someday I will be doing that in Basketball.” 6 years later he got hired. Roger had asked Ara, “do you still have the letter?” And Ara responded, “it may be in the file cabinet in the crazy letter file.” Digger and Roger went to the cabinet and yes it was there. Digger then reflected on when the football team was just crowned number one on January 1 and on January 20th so was the Basketball team. The Ara letter became reality. Digger referred to Coach as a big brother and a mentor. His success was because of Ara being a brother and mentor, and how he taught him ‘how’ to learn to be a Coach and at Notre Dame. Ara told him “Digger every game you play is the other team’s Super Bowl. So your kids have really got to be ready because the other team is coming for ya”. Then Digger breaks down and says “yet there is his wife, there is a Lady on the Dome, she’s the Blessed Mother, but Katie she was the heart and soul by his side till he passed, may he rest in peace, Ara we miss you”.
Vince Gill comes back for one more song which was amazing. “Go Rest On the Mountain.” Vince singing that song brought shivers to my skin. The final performance by the band was the Alma Mater. The choir joined in. The VIP’s in attendance and the general audience joined in singing and swaying to the music. No better way to end a perfect day.
To sum up the afternoon, we all got the message about the Husband, Father, Grand Father, Great Grand Father, Friend, Mentor and Golfing Partner; Coach Parseghian influenced all in the same way. He understood the Notre Dame Value Stream. Make good choices, help those that ask for help, and most of all lead by example. In Coach Parseghian’s passing, there is much to be learned and much more to be shared. This shows that you become a legend not by winning National Championships, but having values of, “If you are willing to work and make a contribution you will be rewarded.” Coach we only met once in my short time here in the area. But it’s not about quantity it’s about quality. Thank you for the moment we shared, but even more, thank you for the stories of how to be a great leader. Rest In Peace, Coach Ara Parseghian. #ForeverIrish