By Peter Tormey
SAN DIEGO – Don Jans, a 1956 graduate of Gonzaga University in electrical engineering, knows a thing or two about quality from his 30-plus years at Westinghouse where he became a top advisor to its president. He picks Gonzaga to beat Arizona today and advance deep in the NCAA Tournament. Teamwork, he says, sets this team apart.
“They are all for each other. If something gets shut down, well then something opens up for someone else and they find the open person who can score and help them win,” said Don who will be at the game today with wife Marilyn, a former nurse and – like Don – a proud Zags fan. “This Gonzaga team is very unique. I tell people this team has a chance to go further than any of the others because of its team orientation and because of its defense.”
Don, recipient of the 2009 Gonzaga Alumni Merit Award, also knows Gonzaga basketball. He and Marilyn, season ticket-holders, have supported the Zags at the West Coast Conference Basketball Championships in Las Vegas each of the previous five years. This year, they opted instead to follow the Zags here for the NCAA Tournament.
“I started watching Gonzaga basketball way back when I was living in DeSmet Hall, when I was going to Gonzaga Prep when it was located at the University. I went to the Gonzaga University games with my father,” he said.
Gonzaga basketball was responsible, in part, for the couple deciding to move from Reno, Nev., to Spokane in 2006. They traveled to Oakland, Calif., in March of that year and witnessed the Zags’ heartbreaking 73-71 loss to UCLA that sent the Bruins to the regional final in Adam Morrison’s final game as a Bulldog.
“I’m so glad we moved back to Spokane,” Marilyn said. “It took a lot of convincing to get me to back to Spokane, but Gonzaga has kept Don going and he is very involved.”
Don and Marilyn both are amazed at how Gonzaga basketball has become the buzz of Spokane and lifted the University’s profile in so many ways.
“The interesting thing about Gonzaga basketball is how it has become so well known not just in Spokane but throughout the country,” Don said. “When I left Gonzaga after graduating, Gonzaga basketball was not very exciting. Now the whole town loves Gonzaga. And the remarkable thing is the consistency of Gonzaga basketball’s excellence and the great leadership it has had from Coach Mark Few.”
The Jans are active in multiple ways in the community and at Gonzaga, where Don is a Regent. Don especially enjoys serving on the Executive Council for the School of Engineering and Applied Science, led by Dean Steve Silliman, where he shares his experience, education, and wisdom.
Don is helping to increase the number of women engineering students at Gonzaga, and to attract more students like Gonzaga cheerleaders Becca Ryan (mechanical engineering) and Cat Truong (electrical engineering).
“On the Dean’s Executive Council, we are really working on getting more women into engineering,” Don said
The Jans are especially proud that Gonzaga basketball recruits top quality people who work for the common good – the team concept.
“A great thing about Gonzaga basketball that has further endeared the University to the community is the fact that the players earn their degrees and many choose to live in the area after graduating – offering shining examples of the value of a Gonzaga education,” Don said.
“I think it is so important that all of the student-athletes get a degree,” said Marilyn.
Don, who grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch between Sprague and Edwall, said Gonzaga would not enjoy its stellar reputation without the University’s Jesuit influence and emphasis on character and moral development.
“Gonzaga is producing good citizens and that matters a great deal,” said Don.
“Seven years of Jesuit education (G-Prep and GU) really set it all up for me to have some success. That’s why I give back,” said Don. “My Gonzaga education allowed me to compete with guys from University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Syracuse and other top universities. I’m proud of what I did for an international corporation and I attribute that to Gonzaga and the Jesuit influence.”
Don calls his and Marilyn’s relationship with Gonzaga “a two-way street.” They benefit by staying involved and contributing their experience, talent and resources while Gonzaga offers opportunities to make a difference for others.
“It still continues to be important for us,” said Marilyn.
“I have made Gonzaga a No. 1 priority,” said Don.
Quality people like the Jans make Gonzaga truly blessed – whatever the score today.