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A look back: Gammage leaves a big legacy at ASU


July 27, 2010

On a sweltering July day in 1933, a middle-aged man quietly arrived on the Tempe campus.

He had not told anyone of his arrival, and hardly anyone was around. But the man was fortunate to find a student, Gilbert Cady, to help him get a key to his new office.

It was rather inauspicious beginning to the tenure of Grady Gammage as ASU’s 9th president.

At that time, according to Dean Smith, author of Men to Match Our Buildings, Arizona State Teachers College had 34 faculty – most of whom were unhappy about a recent pay cut – and 811 students. Buildings were in need of repair, and there was a lot of work to do.

Gammage and his first wife, Dixie, moved into the President’s House (now the Piper Writers House) and settled in to get things done.

Gammage was born on Aug. 5, 1892, in Prescott, Ark., and started teaching at the age of 19. The next year he learned he had tuberculosis, and at that time, the treatment was to go west – to the dry, warm climate of Arizona.

So, he enrolled at the University of Arizona in 1912, paying his way with the help of a $50 gold piece from a family friend.

In 1926, Gammage was named president of Arizona State Teachers College, Flagstaff, where he stayed until he took the helm of Arizona State Teachers College, Tempe.

Gammage had big dreams for ASU, including the building of a grand concert hall. That vision was realized when Frank Lloyd Wright designed the round, rose-colored building with the sweeping ramps that was to become Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium.

Unfortunately, Gammage died before the auditorium was completed in 1964, and he never got to experience its musical grandeur.

But he certainly would have been pleased to know that many students have performed in the auditorium, and enriched their lives through theatrical and other presentations there.

Students were extremely important to the Arkansas man. Smith wrote, “He was a warm, personable man who was a close friend to many of his students, and he helped many financially.”

He also cared deeply about the Teachers College, as it grew to Arizona State College, and then on to Arizona State University. “He never shirked a battle for ASU,” Smith wrote.

And he probably never slipped onto the campus unnoticed again.