Daily Egyptian

1960s alumnus reminisces about his time in Carbondale

SIU+alumnus+Bill+Gasa%2C+of+Chicago%2C+wears+a+2014+Blackout+Cancer+jersey+Saturday%2C+Sept.+30%2C+2017+after+the+Saluki%27s+matchup+against+the+University+of+Northern+Iowa+Panthers+at+Saluki+Stadium+at+PK%27s+bar.+The+jersey+was+worn+by+McCole+Pruitt+in+remembrance+of+Gasa%27s+late-mother+Anne+Marie%2C+who+suffered+from+lymphoma.+%28Brian+Mu%C3%B1oz+%7C+%40BrianMMunoz%29
SIU alumnus Bill Gasa, of Chicago, wears a 2014 Blackout Cancer jersey Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 after the Saluki's matchup against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers at Saluki Stadium at PK's bar. The jersey was worn by McCole Pruitt in remembrance of Gasa's late-mother Anne Marie, who suffered from lymphoma. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

SIU alumnus Bill Gasa, of Chicago, wears a 2014 Blackout Cancer jersey Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 after the Saluki's matchup against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers at Saluki Stadium at PK's bar. The jersey was worn by McCole Pruitt in remembrance of Gasa's late-mother Anne Marie, who suffered from lymphoma. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE

Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE

SIU alumnus Bill Gasa, of Chicago, wears a 2014 Blackout Cancer jersey Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 after the Saluki's matchup against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers at Saluki Stadium at PK's bar. The jersey was worn by McCole Pruitt in remembrance of Gasa's late-mother Anne Marie, who suffered from lymphoma. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

By Denton "Gio" Giovenco

Baby-boomer and SIU alumnus William “Bill” Gasa spent his formative years in Carbondale, witnessing some of the school’s more remarkable sports achievements from the student section of a brand-new SIU Arena and the wooden bleachers of McAndrew Stadium.

Gasa, a retiree from a 28-year career working for the IRS out of Chicago — and 11 years working against them as proprietor of WMG Ltd. — chose Carbondale as the place to enjoy his twilight years for a plethora of reasons.

“Cost. Weather. I hated the weather in Chicago,” he said. “I’m an alumni and I still knew people down here, so it wasn’t like going to Florida or Arizona where there is nothing really personal.”

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He said he is not alone among retirees his age in choosing the communities around their alma maters as a retirement destination.

“I was born in 1947,” Gasa said. ” A lot of us baby-boomers are doing the same thing and returning back to where we attended college — just like I did here — so we can see the games and feel at home.”

Gasa moved back to the area in March of 2010, but he said he has owned season tickets to Saluki basketball and football games since the 2009 season. He attended the last Homecoming game SIU played against Illinois State in 2009 at McAndrew Stadium — the final season of football played at the stadium before it was demolished.

He said he enjoys the new layout on campus with Saluki Stadium, where there is more room to mingle amongst friends and fellow alumni as well as students.

“McAndrew Stadium was right across the street from the student center,” Gasa said. “When I attended here, there were almost no tailgates. Students would party before and after the game off-campus.”

Arriving at SIU in the fall of 1965 to pursue a degree in Economics, Gasa was in attendance at a few memorable sports achievements in Southern’s history. One took place in old McAndrew Stadium his sophomore year against the University of Tulsa on Oct. 28, 1967, when Tulsa was ranked 8th in the nation. The Salukis defeated the Golden Hurricanes 16-13, their first win over a nationally-ranked FBS opponent in program history.

“The old wooden bleachers of the old stadium, I swear a couple of times they were going down,” he said. “Especially when we beat Tulsa … us students went crazy and had a great time.”

The SIU Arena was new to the SIU campus when Gasa arrived, and he said it was considered “one of the best facilities in the state.”

Gasa was in the stands during the Saluki basketball team’s run to the NIT tournament during the 1966-67 season. SIU won the NIT championship that year on the back of NIT tournament MVP — and this year’s Homecoming Grand Marshal — Walt Frazier.

“We all knew Walt was going pro,” he said. “He was unbelievable.”

Gasa remembers Frazier’s struggles with academics that cost the basketball great his junior season of eligibility in 1965-66, but believes Frazier came out of this tribulation the better for it.

“The 65-66 season was my first year on campus and Walt was scholastically ineligible,” Gasa said. “He lost his scholarship and had to pay his own way … and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to Walt.”

According to Gasa, it was not as easy getting a good seat in McAndrew Stadium or the SIU Arena for students in his day versus what he sees at the games today. He attributes most of this not to lack of interest, but declining enrollment.

“I still have the Daily Egyptian from my first year where the freshman class was listed at almost 9,600,” he said. “There was about 25,000 students on campus, and only 10,000 seats at McAndrew [Stadium].”

He said that Carbondale is “pretty much the same” as when he attended as a student. He also still sees animosity between local citizens/business owners and students.

“To this day, 50 years later, I still run into some of this attitude from the locals down here as if students are the enemy,” Gasa said. “They depend on us and we depend on them. There should be a more positive relationship.”

Regardless of this, he said he still sees hope for the future relationship between students and the surrounding community he is now a part of. He knows he is now one of the ambassadors for the community here in Carbondale and not just a “former student”. In the meantime, his focus is on relaxation between hopefully playing witness to more historical sports achievements at SIU.

“I’m not trying to relive my college experience,” Gasa said. “I’m just enjoying my retirement here in familiar southern Illinois.”

Sports writer Denton “Gio” Giovenco can be reached at dgiovenco@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @DentonGiovenco.

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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