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Woldson gift to fund GU arts center

Philanthropist had ‘close ties’ to university for decades

Gonzaga University will get a new performing arts center on campus with a bequest from Spokane philanthropist Myrtle Woldson, who died last month at the age of 104.

The facility will be named the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center and will include a 750-seat theater, according to an announcement Monday from Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh.

The bequest will pay for the design, construction and furnishing of the new performing arts center. Its location on campus will be announced this fall.

McCulloh, who was traveling Monday evening, said by email that the size of the bequest won’t be finalized until the building costs for the 52,000-square-foot facility are known.

Woldson asked that the new center’s theater be named for Father Bernard J. Coughlin, a Gonzaga chancellor who served as the university’s president for 22 years.

“Miss Woldson had close ties to Gonzaga for more than five decades,” said McCulloh’s announcement. “She made generous gifts to the Jundt Museum Art Endowment, athletics and student scholarships over the years.”

He said by email that he had known of the gift.

“I had the wonderful privilege of coming to know Miss Woldson over the past several years, and as part of our time together discussed the possibility of support for a variety of projects.”

Woldson donated $3 million in her father Martin Woldson’s name to help restore the Fox Theater, now called the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. She also gave $1.2 million to help restore the Moore-Turner Heritage Garden.

Her father was a contractor who built railroads, including the Great Northern Railway. Woldson herself owned one of the last big undeveloped lots on the downtown Seattle waterfront.

Both Woldsons appreciated music and the arts, according to reports.

McCulloh said Myrtle Woldson was a talented classical pianist and also played the harp.

The performing arts center will allow the university to have specialized spaces for orchestra, band and choral programs as well as dance and theater arts.

Greg Presley, an adjunct faculty member who has taught piano at Gonzaga for 15 years, said arts programs currently are scattered in several buildings around campus and performance space is scarce.

“It’s kind of a crazy hodge-podge,” he said, adding, the new center “would give our students a real performing home.”

Timothy Westerhaus, assistant professor and director of choirs and vocal studies, said the choral program has tripled in size in the four years he’s been at the school. The new classrooms will be as welcome as the theater, he said.

McCulloh’s announcement said the performing arts center “will usher in a new era of teaching and learning in these creative disciplines at GU, as well as create a magnificent venue for the entire community to enjoy. ”

Last year, Gonzaga announced its largest-ever gift, $25 million from GU Trustee John J. Hemmingson to help build a student center. That facility is under construction now and is expected to open in 2015.

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