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Golden Circle History
The history of the Santa Clara University Board of Fellows is one filled with dedication and glamour. From the beginning, the Board decided to stage a Hollywood style gala complete with big name entertainers to increase the University’s endowment fund. Today, the tradition continues, making the Golden Circle one of the most spectacular and successful fund raisers in the Santa Clara Valley.
Originated in January 1967 by actor Fess Parker, best known for his starring role as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, and Walter E. Schmidt, S.J., founding member of the Board of Fellows and Vice President for University Relations, the Golden Circle has grown in size and prestige throughout the years. The Board of Fellows has never lost sight of their original goal: "Raise some funds and some friends for Santa Clara University and have a great time in the process."
As the first show was being planned, some wondered whether the Santa Clara community would support a $100 per person black tie party. The answer was clear…absolutely! After all, host Fess Parker had persuaded Jimmy Durante, Rosemary Clooney, Ed Ames, and Doodletown Pipers to perform, and the 35 member Board had no trouble selling out the 650-seat Montgomery Theatre. After the show, entertainers mingled with guests at the first "After Theatre Party."
Parker and Schmidt knew the keys to a successful event – stage a quality show before an enthusiastic audience, make the entertainers feel welcome and appreciated, and couple it with a dedicated, hard-working team of Board members who personally worked on setting up the theatre, staging the show, and selling tickets.
In 1971, Fr. Schmidt asked Marty Passetta, a major television producer-director to take responsibility for securing the talent and staging the show. As Passetta said, "Who could say ‘no’ to Fr. Schmidt?" For the next 15 years, he flew in from Hollywood with entertainers, musicians, and a skeleton stage crew, all of whom donated their services to the University.
The early years at the Civic Auditorium, Benson Center, and the Hyatt House Mediterranean Center, brought such names as Jonathan Winters, Jimmy Dean, Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Lionel Newman, Bob Newhart, and Frank Sinatra to the Santa Clara Valley to raise money to build the University’s Louis B. Mayer Theatre.
Pre-show dinners were hosted at downtown restaurants or private homes by Board members to give their parties an opportunity to socialize. Often guests arrived at the Center for the Performing Arts, the home of the show since 1976, by chartered bus to avoid last minute parking hassles.
As the valley grew and performing artists frequented the area, the Board of Fellows transitioned the Golden Circle’s emphasis from not only a show, but an entire evening of fun and entertainment. Beginning in 1985, McCabe Hall at the Civic Auditorium was transformed into an elegant venue for post-performance festivities where guests not only sipped cocktails and indulged in decadent desserts, but also danced and were entertained by University performing arts students.
The Santa Clara University Board of Fellows has grown from 35 to 175 members. It is a diverse group of men and women united in their common goal to increase the community’s awareness and understanding of Santa Clara University. While the Golden Circle Theatre Party and its many guests continue to raise funds for the University endowment, Board members are just as proud of carrying out Fr. Schmidt’s challenge to be "friend-raisers."