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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Expo ‘74 made Spokane a ‘forever home’ for Musgrave family

From left, Jan Musgrave Zwetsch, Leah Musgrave, John Musgrave and Alicia Thompson hike in the summer of 1975.  (Rick Singer Photography/Courtesy of Alicia Thompson)

When Alicia Thompson moved to Spokane at 14, the World’s Fair was already underway. For the teenager, the Lilac City was a magical place that “saved her life.”

“I wasn’t in Spokane before the Expo. I just knew the city as this bright, shiny, glowing, glorious city that had all this cool stuff right downtown. I could walk anywhere and everywhere,” Thompson remembered.

Fifty years later, Thompson now leads Spokane’s Regional Health District as its administrative officer – returning to Spokane last year after several decades across the country. But it was her teenage experience at Expo ’74 that made her and her family lifelong Spokanites.

“Spokane is my home. Always has been. Even when I couldn’t be here,” she said.

‘He made the world hear’

Thompson and her family of four sisters all moved to Spokane that fateful summer to join their father – who had been tapped to ensure the world knew a world’s fair was happening in a small city in the Inland Northwest.

John R. Musgrave had been working in marketing near Philadelphia upon getting the call to revamp the fair’s marketing strategy. At the time, some believed the fair would fail because not enough people would know to travel to a city they had never heard about. By the end of the summer, Spokane had 5.6 million visitors.

In a 1975 interview with the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Musgrave said “very few people” knew the fair was happening when he was hired and he had a “terrible short time” to get the word out. The fair’s vice president of marketing moved to Spokane in December 1973 – just four months before the fair opened.

In the interview, Musgrave described the fair’s success as a “David and Goliath type of thing,” but bristled at Spokane being labeled an “underdog” in the city’s efforts to put on a world’s fair.

“Underdogs lose, we didn’t lose. And I don’t like that loser image,” he said.

Musgrave also rejected any notion Spokane was undeserving of hosting as large of an event as Expo ’74.

“We have nothing to apologize for. We’re no less than anyone else. Yes, we’re a little city doing something that has never been done before. That makes us better than everybody else. You know it’s nothing for New York City to put on a world’s fair, but it’s really something for Spokane to put on a World’s Fair,” he said.

Thompson’s sister Mary Rosner also followed her father to Spokane several months before the rest of the family and, at 20, became the chef of the fair’s VIP club. Seeing her father up close, Rosner said Musgrave was “extremely instrumental” to its success.

“He had six months to get this whole thing done. When you know everybody else had years to come up with the idea and get things going, it was really impressive what he did,” Rosner said.

Thompson did not realize at the time how important her father was within the hierarchy of the fair’s staff. One of her core memories of that summer was getting to shake the hand of famed singer Harry Belafonte – a feat she later realized would not have happened if she were not her father’s daughter.

‘Mealtime Tempting for Musgrave Male’

The appearance of Musgrave, his wife and five daughters did not go unnoticed in Spokane. In the midst of the fair The Spokesman-Review ran a story about the family headlined “Mealtime Tempting for Musgrave Male.”

“Few men have as many reasons to worry about their waistlines as does John Musgrave,” reads the article – noting the “attractive” wife and five “lovely” daughters have a “smile that would brighten any kitchen.” The story went on to detail what each of the Musgrave women like to cook.

Reading the article back 50 years later, Thompson was amused at the journalist’s characterizations but noted there was much more to her mother than work done in a kitchen.

“Mom got engaged with the community quickly. She was a makeup artist, and she helped incarcerated women learn how to put on makeup – to help them when they were released,” she said of Jan Musgrave Zwetsch.

Thompson’s only mention in the article stated she “at this time is least interested in cooking.” That lack of interest has not changed in the years since.

“I hate to cook. And that’s what it said in the article. It goes through all of my sisters, but not Alicia. She never did. She never developed that trait,” Thompson said of herself.

Rosner does like to cook. Just before moving to Spokane she received a degree at the Culinary Institute of America in New York City. Working as a 20-year-old chef for the featured guests and dignitaries at the fair was her first foray at a professional kitchen.

“I really got to enjoy a lot of things that I would have never been able to accomplish in my life without Expo. It gave me a sense of ownership of the restaurant and being able to spread my wings a bit and run a kitchen,” she remembered.

The most memorable celebrity she cooked for that summer was pianist and singer Liberace. But it was through the connections she made at Expo that she later met her husband in Reno, Nevada. The pair moved back to Spokane to raise their children and have not left.

When she first moved to Spokane for the summer, Rosner did not expect to find her “forever home.” But she saw something special in the city that emerged from the World’s Fair.

“Those six months in my life were really cool and they affected my whole life. It’s not often that you get to participate in something that, unbeknownst to you, will have an incredible impact on your life,” Rosner said with tears. “I think the fair had that effect on a lot of people. It was just a really, really special.”

A clean slate in Spokane

Thompson credits the world’s fair with saving her life. Just finishing her freshman year of high school south of Philadelphia, Thompson said her mental health had suffered.

“I firmly believe that moving to Spokane saved my life. My high school there had a really bad drug problem and there were numerous people in my class that had committed suicide. And I was heading down the tubes fast – really fast. But I came to Spokane and was offered a clean slate,” she said.

Beginning that clean slate in the midst of a world’s fair gave her hope there was “still magic” in the world.

“I went every day. I remember – one of the most vivid memories was sitting on the curb. And it was beautiful. And the air smelled so good. Everything was just fresh and clean in Spokane in a way I had never experienced,” she remembered.

Thompson was inspired by the fair’s environmental theme, which in part was an influence in her career in public health – culminating now in her leadership of the Spokane Regional Health District.

But a larger inspiration was her father who spent much of his career leading people. She called him a “change agent” who would go into organizations and make them better.

Before he died in 2000, Thompson recalled asking her father what made a good leader.

“Lush, you’ve got to trust yourself,” she recalled him saying – using his pet name for her. “You’re gonna wonder who you are to do this and make this happen. But you’ve got to trust yourself.”

Earlier this year Thompson ran in Bloomsday wearing her dad’s raincoat.

“It was like I had him with me and we ran together,” she said.