It’s one of those quintessential late-summer days in Seattle. Clear in the morning, warm, gathering clouds by late afternoon, the air heavy and muggy. The tourists are tired, making their way back to the hotel for an early dinner. It is Friday, rush hour, and the Cougar Marching Band, full 250 strong, is playing the fight song on the terrace in front of Westlake Center.
Who knows how many of the hundreds of people gathered for this late-afternoon pep rally are alums. But everyone’s a Cougar for now. Everyone’s smiling. The band is giving it everything, the cheerleaders are pumping the crowd and defying gravity, and this little kid right next to the trombones is bouncing up and down like crazy as the band moves into an old rock song.
All across town this afternoon, Cougars are everywhere, their crimson-and-gray garb ranging from subtle to ostentatious. Tomorrow, the football team will fall to Colorado, but for these two days in September, the Cougars have taken Seattle.
Inside the mall, Tricia Simon and her staff have prepared Washington State Connections, WSU’s three-month-old retail and information enclave, for the crowd that will soon move inside from the pep rally. At first, except for the model of Butch standing at the door, Connections looks little different from all the other high-end shops that populate Westlake. But then you step inside and start noticing the signs.
The interior, which was designed by Pak Koon ’90 and Paul Wanzer ’80 of the architectural firm Mithun, suggests-subtly, mind you-eastern Washington. The color scheme is warm and earthy. Study the light fixtures above the sales counter, and you realize that, yes, they do suggest irrigation circles. And yes, the texture of the ceiling does look like wheat stubble. And there’s a shock of wheat tucked among the sales displays. And a clump of tumbleweed.
And, of course, all things Cougar. I hadn’t known you can buy a wind-up mobile for your baby’s crib that plays the fight song. Or a crimson-and-gray tricycle.
The store is comfortable, inviting, nostalgic. Here are Palouse landscape watercolors, Pendleton blankets with a cougar head woven in, very nice clothes that happen to be crimson and gray, books from the WSU Press, engraved wineglasses. The store also sells wine from alumni wineries, Gordon Brothers and Cougar Crest among others.
Simon is excited that the day before had seen the second-highest sales since the grand opening in June. Sales clerks Dave Walsh and Joan Henry explain that customers are a real mix of Cougars, friends of Cougars, even Huskies buying gifts for their Cougar friends. And tourists of course. Six-and-a-half million people a year pass through Westlake, at least when the monorail is running. And a good number of them wander in, out of curiosity. Tourists seem most interested in WSU cheese, which so far has generated 22 percent of the store’s sales.
“It’s a little WSU in Seattle,” says Simon.
At noon, in a ballroom on the third floor of BonMacy’s, 260 Cougars and friends gathered for the Future Cougars of Color luncheon. After greetings by President Rawlins and Dave Huddleston ’97, who is currently news anchor for FOX29 in Philadelphia, Washington First Lady Mona Locke spoke about her struggles as a Chinese-American trying to break into television news and the value of help from an experienced colleague.
Ms. Locke, a graduate of Berkeley, also managed to slip in a couple of “Go Bears!” then had all the Cougars applaud all the Huskies in the audience, of whom there were a good number. Half of those sitting at my table were such.
Then Regent Ken Alhadeff took the pulpit and delivered a rousing riff on the Declaration of Independence, exhorting the goodwill of everyone present toward filling in the pledge cards next to their plates. According to Milton Lang, director of development, scholarships, and diversity, and one of the event’s organizers, the event raised $86,000.
Mid-afternoon, Mary Gresch and I are relaxing momentarily at Emmett Watson’s over a plate of oysters and glasses of white wine from Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, founded by WSU Spokane researcher Harry Mielke. As the marketing guru for WSU, Gresch has pushed hard for the WSU presence that permeates Seattle today. She’s pleased with how things have been going. Gresch’s job is to sell WSU. With Marketing Communications, Student Recruiting, the president-everyone, for that matter-chipping in, WSU, which has always filled the state, now seems, well, bigger. Even smarter. More confident.
What’s next? “More,” says Gresch. “Bigger.” She smiles.
Back at the pep rally, the band is cranking out “Louie, Louie.” Volunteers-mostly Cougars-from the fire and police departments and state patrol smile as they watch the happy crowd. No trouble here. And that kid, that kid is still jumping up and down, as high as he can go. Somebody give that kid a scholarship.