Oct. 14, 2005
The love affair first started in 1929 when he was 10 years old.
As the son of Italian immigrants living in Glendale, Calif., Don Guglielmino didn’t even know where South Bend, Ind., was located.
But it was on those Saturdays long ago, listening to the radio broadcasts from Notre Dame Stadium, that his love was born. Clutching his well-worn football, he became captivated by the Fighting Irish, coached by Knute Rockne and led by a quartet of backs known as the Four Horsemen. A connection was made and it stayed with him and became a guiding force that led to his future.
Guglielmino attended Glendale High School where he was a standout football player. He proved he belonged on the gridiron and was ready to realize his lifelong ambition of playing football for the University of Notre Dame. Thus, in 1939, Guglielmino set out from southern California for a small, picturesque Midwestern campus he had never seen, except in his dreams.
That fall, Guglielmino suited up for one of his idols, Irish head football coach Elmer Layden, who had been one of the famed Four Horsemen 15 years earlier. He was enchanted by the University and felt a connection with the campus life. But his stay was cut short by the death of his father, causing him to transfer to Stanford University to be closer to his family. Subsequently, the United States became embroiled in World War II, and Guglielmino enlisted in the Army Air Corps, bravely serving in the Pacific.
During the war years, Guglielmino met Flora Nau from Chico, Calif., courted her and, eventually, they married in 1943. Together, they raised three children, son Michael and daughters Susan and Diane. As the children grew up, they quickly became aware of the importance of football and their father’s passion for Notre Dame. In fact, it wasn’t long before all three Guglielmino children could recite Grantland Rice’s Four Horsemen passage from memory.
With the end of the war, Don and Flora returned to southern California and in 1947 Don started a small hardware store in Newhall, Calif. In a remote and rural county north of Los Angeles, Don saw the area’s potential. As the town grew, Guglielmino’s business grew and developed into many different sectors. By the mid 1960s, he helped found the Santa Clarita National Bank, serving as its chairman until its sale, first to Security Pacific National Bank in the 1990 and later to Bank of America. Guglielmino’s vision helped expand this region north of Los Angeles which today is know as Newhall /Valencia, and his companies have become the foundation for a community that has a population of more than 100,00 people. Newhall Hardware, which Don successfully ran for four decades, is still thriving today.
The values and faith Don found at Notre Dame remained with him and became the compass that guided his professional and family life. The connection to Notre Dame football never dimmed and led to his desire to give back to the University. On the weekend of Oct. 25-26, 1991, Don, Flora and their family returned to Notre Dame where the Guglielmino’s announced their gift to the University. Don wanted this generous contribution to specifically benefit the football program and Notre Dame athletics.
At the private dinner held in their honor, Fighting Irish head coach Lou Holtz stunned Don by joining the family for dinner and inviting Don to be a special guest for the game the following day against longtime archrival USC. Flora recalls his excitement: “It was the first time Don was invited to be on the sidelines for a game. He was so excited he was ready at six in the morning and decked out in Notre Dame gear from head to toe.”
Following the hard-fought 24-20 Notre Dame victory, Guglielmino was asked to join the team in the locker room and was presented the game ball.
For the next decade, the University worked on ways to best utilize Guglielmino’s gift. In the interim, his generosity, passion and support of Notre Dame and all that it stands for were recognized in 1996, when he was made an honorary alumnus of the University.
In 2001, Don passed away without knowing how his request would be fulfilled. Shortly after his death, the University’s need for a new athletic facility dovetailed perfectly with the intent of the Guglielmino gift. The decision was made to construct a building that would stand the test of time, much like Don’s unwavering commitment to Irish football. Plans were drawn for the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, a mammoth 96,000-square-foot facility that would house the Notre Dame football program’s locker room, offices, meeting rooms and player’s lounge, as well as provide all 800 Fighting Irish student-athletes with enhanced space for training and sports medicine, strength and conditioning programs, and equipment.
Ground was broken on the landmark building on May 5, 2004, and crews worked virtually nonstop during the ensuing 15 months to make it unquestionably the finest college football facility in America. In July 2005, Notre Dame coaches and staff began the process of moving into the building, which has lovingly been dubbed “The Gug.” Every inch of the facility reflects the passion Guglielmino felt for Notre Dame football, from the two-story high mural of his beloved Four Horsemen, to the meticulous timelines of season’s past, to the trophy cases that highlight the greatest memories in Fighting Irish history.
This weekend, nearly eight decades after Don Guglielmino first developed his passion for Notre Dame football, three generation of the Guglielmino family will be on hand as the Guglielmino Athletics Complex officially is dedicated. In addition to Flora, all three children will be present — Michael and his wife, Gail with their daughter, Alexandra; Susan and her son, Taylor; and Diane (Terpeluk) and her husband, Peter, step-daughter Meredith, a Notre Dame grad in 2000 and their son, Trey.
Always known to his friends by the nickname “Gug,” Don would be shocked today to hear student-athletes discuss meeting at the “The Gug” but he’d be thrilled to know that future Irish victories are being planned will be planned within its walls.