Ray Eldridge doesn’t usually recommend hitchhiking. However, he didn’t have many options a few years ago, when his car gave out near North Bend enroute to Pullman from Seattle. Not to worry. From the back seat, he retrieved a Washington State University sweatshirt and cap, slipped them on, and thumbed a ride.
The “good Samaritan” who picked him up proved to be a Seattle-area veterinarian traveling to WSU to join his daughter for Dad’s Weekend.
“That’s the kind of tight-knit family we are in. Some people don’t understand that about Washington State University,” the 2002-03 WSU Alumni Association president says.
Eldridge’s own WSU ties are no exception. His father, Don, attended WSU before him and praised the College of Education. Ray completed a bachelor’s degree (’69) and a master’s (’71) in physical education. And his son, Thom (’91 Mech. Engr.), holds three WSU degrees.
Active on campus, Ray was president of Rogers Hall (1966-67) and helped direct WSU’s intramural and recreation programs for three years as an undergraduate and graduate student. Later he served on the College of Education’s advisory board and represented his college on the Alumni Association board. He’s returned to WSU as a guest lecturer. Both he and his wife, Mary, are longtime WSU season ticket-holders (football and volleyball). Prior to assuming the alumni presidency last May, he served two terms as president of the King County Cougar Club.
He spent nearly five years as a teacher, coach, and activities director-mainly at the high school level-in the Concrete School District, not far from his native Mount Vernon.
After talking to executives in sports administration, a field he wanted to pursue, he completed a master’s degree at Ohio University. It was a stepping-stone to his “dream job.” In 1976 he was hired as events coordinator of the new Seattle Kingdome and eventually was promoted to manager of events services.
He cherishes memories of his 25 years under the lid before the Kingdome was razed in 2000 to make way for Seahawk Stadium. At the Kingdome he oversaw six full-time employees and nearly 1,000 event workers. They were responsible for facilitating national concert tours, state high school athletic championships, the NCAA “Final Four” in basketball (’84, ’89, and ’95), and home, boat, and auto shows, among other venues. Main tenants, of course, were the Mariners, Seahawks, Sonics, and Sounders Soccer Club.
Eldridge admits he thrived on the “three-ring circus” atmosphere. Never hesitant to help staff members, he’d pitch in to move barricades. When an event attracted a huge walk-up crowd, he’d grab a cashbox, a roll of tickets, and “go sell tickets.”
“Sometimes it was difficult just to stay back, coordinate, and direct,” he says.
Now, as education coordinator of the Groundwater Program, Eldridge conducts programs in King County schools to educate students about groundwater protection and conservation. Frequently he meets with community groundwater protection committees in five regions within the county, where the sole source of drinking water is groundwater.
“Working with any big organization, you need to delegate . . . and share information,” he says. As alumni president, he’s introduced “Cougar-Es,” e-mail messages he writes to alumni every two months. He credits Alumni Relations staff members Christina Parrish, Brian Bates, and Alex Webster for developing a Web link to deliver alumni news and photographs online.
“Alumni in one district can see what their peers in other districts have done, or are doing,” he says of “Cougar Welcome” events for new students, award presentations, and how rooms were set up and signage used. “Why reinvent the wheel, when alumni groups are doing the same kinds of events? Most of our directors are involved in non-WSU activities. Anything we can do to make their jobs as alumni volunteers easier by providing ideas or staff assistance, we will do.”
As the University begins to consider candidates to succeed Keith Lincoln, longtime executive director of Alumni Relations, when he decides to retire, Eldridge says the association can have some valuable input.
”We want to build on the excellence Keith has established during his tenure here.”