By Peter Tormey
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Harry Sladich, who served Gonzaga University in leadership roles for 49 years, including as a vice president who oversaw athletics and resisted calls to trim basketball budgets, died in 2009 but his son Harry is proudly representing his dad at the National Championship game today.
Harry Sladich, a senior executive with Spokane, Washington-based Red Lion Hotels Corp., is wearing the jersey Gonzaga’s Board of Trustees gave his father upon his retirement from full-time service to Gonzaga in 2001. Emblazoned on the back of the jersey is the name “Harry.”
“When he retired they gave my dad and my mom a Gonzaga jersey a set a shorts and a top. After dad passed away, we took all of his stuff in and then when mom died we put it in a bin and we kept a lot of the GU mementos,” Sladich said, who is attending the Final Four at the University of Phoenix Arena with his family.
When Gonzaga advanced to its first Final Four, Sladich knew it was time to break out the jersey.
“I had never worn it. After a very tearful moment, I put it on and I’ve been wearing it to channel my dad to be here for these games and I’ll be wearing it tonight,” Sladich said. “I so wish he were here but he is here in spirit, my mom and dad are up there cheering the Zags on.”
Sladich also is wearing the ring the University gave his father during one of his two stints as acting president.
Gonzaga University is such a community. It’s such a special place. The fact that the embraced my mother all those years after my father’s passing just stands as a testament to how unbelievably great the University is. (Gonzaga President) Thayne McCulloh would call and check in on her. Mike Roth (athletic director) emails me every Jan. 9 and says, ‘Happy Birthday to Your Dad,’” Sladich said.
In fact, his father hired Mike Roth and was an early and forceful advocate for the many good things that could come from a successful basketball program.
“A lot of people wanted to cut the program back because of the amount of money it took and dad said, ‘absolutely not.’ He humbly served the University that he loved so dearly. So I’m honored to have his jersey on today,” he said.
Even after retiring from Gonzaga, Sladich continued to serve the University part time as vice president until his death. In that capacity, he continued as corporate secretary and as secretary of the boards of Trustees and Regents. He served as secretary for the Board of Trustees for 28 years.
His father’s contributions to Gonzaga are legendary. Sladich was born Jan. 9, 1938, in Anaconda, Mont., and served Gonzaga in more than a dozen professional positions. He came to Gonzaga first as a student and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University in 1959 and an MBA in 1967. He received Gonzaga’s Distinguished Alumni Merit Award in 1996.