Anybody who has been to the west side of campus recently has undoubtedly noticed the construction taking place as the new performing arts center slowly comes alive. Few realize the incredible story of how the school obtained the funds to build this amazing new feature as well as who its benefactor was — a story all Zags truly need to know.
Myrtle Woldson, the namesake of the new building, was the benefactor who gave Gonzaga the money to construct the new center. She had a deep love for not only music and the arts, but also for Gonzaga.
Woldson was the daughter of a man with a brilliant mind for business and a mother with a great love of gardening. Throughout her life she was an astute business woman who made her fortune by following in her father’s footsteps while also retaining her mother’s great passion for the arts and gardening. After making her fortune, she kept a keen eye on the community, trying to aid the less fortunate in any way she could find.
She was a generous and active philanthropist who often helped the community in immense ways during her many years in Spokane. In 2014 she died of natural causes at 104 and, through her death, she made what is quite possibly one of her most charitable acts.
Her will included many surprises, which was fitting for a woman who was so spontaneous. Many of the items listed in the will went to former gardeners she employed, close neighbors, her cousins and multiple Catholic charities. Woldson even set aside $1 million to be used to better the lives of the homeless people of Spokane.
GU also made it into her will. This amazing gift brought Gonzaga around $55 million.This is among one of the largest donations the university has received. GU announced that $30 million of the sum would be used to create the ever-growing structure we see today. Woldson, through her generosity, is giving countless generations of Zags the privilege of a new space to showcase their talents.
According to Kathleen Jeffs, the chair of the Theater and Dance department, the new facility will have two performing spaces, a 750-seat auditorium and a smaller 150-seat performing space. The 750-seat main auditorium will have a full fly house, an orchestra pit and perfect acoustics.
The compact performing space is perfect for smaller shows. The seats in this room are moveable to allow dancers to utilize the space as well. Jeffs stressed the fact that this new space will be interdisciplinary, placing equal importance on music, dance and theater.
Abbey Plankey, a set designer, also confirmed that the building will include a design studio where students can learn all about set design. The space will be big enough for guest artists and well-known performers to come and showcase their craft.
Woldson was always able to see the gleaming bronze tower of the Jundt Art Museum from her living room. Included with the donation, Woldson included a request that a replica of her living room be built in the building. She even donated all the original furniture and fixtures. With this contribution, she will forever be able to watch over the campus and the students who attend.
The Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts center will be completed and open to students starting in fall 2018.
Spencer Brown is a staff writer.