Maggie Duncan, Staff Writer
Notre Dame traditions are all about longevity. When it comes to football traditions, the longer-standing, the better. With the recent close of football season, it seemed only obvious to interview one of the most permanent parts of the Notre Dame football legacy: Mr. Len Gish.
Gish is not a former player or a former coach, or anything that would immediately come to mind, yet Gish has been in the stadium for Notre Dame games for multiple decades. He is an usher for the student section of the stadium (as well as the JACC for basketball games), and he has been part of the Notre Dame football family for 52 seasons.
Gish lives with his sister here in South Bend, he explained.
“Born and raised here, never left. The only time I left is when I got drafted and I was in the service for two years,” he stated simply. “United States and Korea, between ‘63 and ’65. I’m an old timer.”
I asked Gish about his time here and how he got started at the university.
“I started here when I was 17, ushering in the stadium. I’ve been in the stadium for 52 years in the senior section,” he said.
Over five decades, Notre Dame has gone through major changes and renovations—one of these being the permitting of women to attend the university. I wondered how Gish had seen these changes affect the university. Gish answered with the air of someone who has more than half a century of experience under his belt.
“Well, back then it was all guys. But it hasn’t been bad now with the girls,” he said. “Basically all the kids are easy to handle. Put it this way, if they give us too much static, we ask for their ID, and they know where they’re at.”
The standards and education of Notre Dame are not the only things that have changed over the years. I asked Gish what he saw during his time here as the football program progressed (and regressed) throughout the seasons.
“The program started getting bigger back in the 60s,” he said. “I would say it’s had its highs and lows.”
After 52 years, there must be certain factors that draw Gish back again and again. He told me his favorite part of being an usher: “You meet a cross section of people technically from around the world because you know the university’s classes are diverse. Years ago it would have only been Americans and Canadians, and now you’ve got them coming from all over the world, which is good.”
When asked why he has stayed for so long, he had a simple but sweet answer:
“For the enjoyment of it.”
Gish is a captain of the ushers in the senior section. He says that students have been pretty easy to keep a handle on during his time here. The only time it seemed to be difficult was when the band sat up in the stands. In addition to this information, Gish gave me some of the history of the tradition of throwing marshmallows at the last game.
“It’s been a while. They used to throw snowballs. You know, if Notre Dame went to a bowl game—like if they went to the Orange Bowl they would throw oranges. Sometimes they were throwing live frogs. They threw squids like they used to do at hockey games. They would go get a half a side of raw salmon. Now, you get stuck with that on your coat…ehhhh,” Gish half-grinned, half-grimaced at the memory.
When it comes down to the marshmallows, it seems the situation can get a bit messy.
“I could take it or leave it. The only thing is if the weather is bad, your feet stick. I’ve stuck right to the tunnel and couldn’t move. I’d lose my shoe,” he said.
Despite debacles with rowdy kids and sticky stands, Gish seems to have enjoyed his years in the stadium. When asked if Notre Dame was like a family, Gish had a sound response.
“Oh yeah. They’ll take care of you if you get down and out.”
While Gish was out this season due to health issues, he wants to be back for next season. I asked him how long he wants to go on ushering. Gish’s response falls in line with the enthusiastic tradition of the Notre Dame spirit.
“As long as my pins hold up, I’ll do it.”
Maggie Duncan is freshman living in McGlinn Hall and as such has only been a part of one season of Notre Dame football. If you would like to teach her more about the traditions of the past 50 years, contact her at email@example.com.