Colangelo takes his new GCU role to heart
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Of all the people who were in the Student Union on Thursday as speaker after speaker described the life that Jerry Colangelo has so well lived, no one has known him longer than his sister Rosemary Howell.
And she captured it like no one else could.
“I know one thing: No one can compare to him,” she said, fighting back tears. “He’s the best brother in the world. I just love my brother, I really do. And he’s always been like that, even when he was young. Jerry doesn’t just share himself — he shares his heart.”
That big heart will now be shared with Grand Canyon University in an even bigger way. Before an overflow crowd at a press conference/celebration, the University announced that the business school has a new name: the Colangelo College of Business. His name will continue to be on the Colangelo School of Sports Business, created three years ago with his considerable input.
This wasn’t just a red letter (or purple letter) day for GCU. To borrow one of Colangelo’s favorite terms, it was a gold standard day.
“Shooting for the gold can only happen if you have gold standards,” he told the crowd when it was finally his turn to follow all the impassioned speeches about his positive effect on so many lives. “In the College of Business, we’re going to have gold standards.”
Afterward, he made clear what his role will be in creating those standards: “I’m never involved in anything halfway. If I’m involved, I’m involved all the way.”
That’s why this is anything but one of those ceremonial, in-name-only designations. Colangelo is always a man on a mission, whether he’s building a sports franchise, shaping a college curriculum or just puttering around the house.
“He does the vacuuming and dishes, and then he goes out and gets coffee for everyone,” said his daughter Kristen Brubaker. “He’s the best host. In fact, host is one of his favorite roles to play. It’s fun to see him in that role.”
In addition to his family, the crowd included a host of dignitaries — including Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Phoenix District 5 City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, all of whom spoke — and longtime friends and business associates of Colangelo.
There was Bob Machen, who first worked with Colangelo as business manager of the Phoenix Suns in 1969 and recently retired as GCU’s senior vice president of campus development. They used to have lunch three or four times a week when they were both with the Suns, and it was Machen who first called Colangelo to get him hooked up with GCU in 2011. Machen said that when he suffered a heart attack a few years ago, Colangelo and his wife, Joan, were at the hospital that night even though visiting hours had ended. “He’s absolutely a regular guy,” Machen said.
There was his business partner of 35 years, Mel Shultz, who gave a passionate talk about what working with Colangelo has meant to him and shook his head in amazement as he talked later about what their working relationship has been like. “We’ve never had an argument in 35 years,” he said. “We don’t argue. We discuss.”
And there was John Sakata, a local businessman who said he met Colangelo on Jerry’s first day in Phoenix 46 years ago and has been his friend ever since. Rosemary said Colangelo’s four children knew him as “Uncle John,” and Sakata, who came to the gathering even though he’s confined to a wheelchair, said, “We’re like cement. You can’t beat him. They don’t come any better than that man.”
But just as telling was the speech by a sports business student, Austin Walker, who eloquently spoke of what Colangelo has meant to his education. “He’s always stood up for the integrity of the game and what that looks like,” Walker told the crowd, “and he brings that to the classroom as well.”
Walker said he had never delivered a speech “remotely close” to that magnitude, to that large of a crowd. You’d never know it. He nailed it.
“I really wanted it to be from the heart,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be ‘speechy,’ and I really wanted it to touch Mr. Colangelo’s heart.”
No question about that. Colangelo got up immediately to shake Walker’s hand, and his heart clearly was touched.
GCU President/CEO Brian Mueller said that positive effect on students was one of the reasons he wanted to expand Colangelo’s sphere of influence in the College of Business. This all came together in the last three months, while Colangelo was busy shepherding the U.S. men’s basketball team to its fourth straight gold medal in international competition.
“As we watched him talk to students, we wanted to look for ways to connect him even more with them,” Mueller said. “It’s a perfect fit. There are countless ways he could really leave a legacy, so for him to do this is great for the University. It’s important to us.”
The fit is perfect in three ways, in Mueller’s view: Colangelo’s entrepreneurial spirit, his golden standards and, most important, his faith-based values. “What our students need is powerful role models,” Mueller said, “and he’s a great role model.”
The University’s first major initiatives in conjunction with the announcement are the creation of two scholarships bearing Colangelo’s name — one for a Phoenix Union High School District student, one for a Canyon Christian Schools Consortium student. Also, honor students will be known as Colangelo Scholars.
You can be sure that all of the 2,001 CCOB students, no matter whether they receive any honors, will get an indoctrination into the Colangelo Way. They will hear the word integrity a lot. They will hear about being prepared. And they certainly will hear about the importance of being willing to work hard — already in evidence during the press conference when Colangelo’s grandson had to leave early to go to his job.
How much will Jerry be involved in the Colangelo College of Business? Just ask his sister.
“This is his new baby,” she said. “GCU is in his heart. It’s home.”
And it’s not just a heart of gold. It’s a heart with a gold standard.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.