The history of the Santa Clara University Board of Fellows is one filled with dedication and glamour. These devoted individuals made it their mission to raise funds for the school to continue the tradition of excellence at Santa Clara University. With this tradition in mind, they hosted the first ever Golden Circle Theatre Party in 1967.
The Hollywood-style gala, complete with big name entertainers, was focused on increasing the University’s endowment fund. Today, the tradition continues, making the Golden Circle Theatre Party one of the most spectacular and successful fundraisers in the Santa Clara Valley.
Originated in January 1967 by actor Fess Parker, also known as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, along with founding member of the Board of Fellows Walter E. Schmidt, S.J., Vice President for University Relations, the Golden Circle and the Board have both grown in size and prestige throughout the years. The Board has never lost sight of its 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, 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 partygoers an opportunity to socialize.
As the valley grew and performing artists frequented the area, the Board of Fellows switched the Golden Circle’s emphasis from not only a show, but to 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 SCU performing arts students. Since then, the Board has made it a priority to welcome current student body members to participate and attend the festivities.
1990 brought another change in the format of the Golden Circle Theatre Party. The evening began with Mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, followed by a show at the Center for Performing Arts. The show ended with a parade of elegantly dressed attendees lead by stilt walkers, who marched en masse to the San Jose Fairmont Hotel for a sit down dinner and dancing until the wee hours of the morning.
In 2001, the Golden Circle Theatre Party was the center piece of the University’s Sesquicentennial Celebration. 2,400 Golden Circle patrons gathered in the Mission Gardens for a twilight performance by Huey Luis and the News. The evening was topped off with dinner and dancing in the fabulous tent pavilion created just for the event.
The Board of Fellows, ever anxious to raise funds for the University, added the Partners in Gold program in 1998. Originally envisioned as an opportunity for corporations to sponsor the event, ten years later in 2008 the same opportunity was extended to families and foundations. The Partners in Gold program has added significantly to the bottom-line of the event, enabling the Fellows to continue to produce an evening that is unparalleled in the Valley.
In 2011, for the first time, the Fellows offered the opportunity to establish an Endowed Fund as part of the Golden Circle Partners in Gold. The momentum has continued, and as a result of this program, the Fellows were proud to present Fr. Engh with over $1.2 million for the University endowment in 2014.
In the last 52 years, the Santa Clara University Board of Fellows has grown from 35 to 175 members, and has raised millions of dollars for the University. The Board 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 52 years later 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 on Fr. Schmidt’s challenge to be "friend-raisers."