Harold Rusch

Harold Rusch (right) and his daughter Annette (middle) are interviewed by Gonzaga Bulletin Sports Editor Vincent Saglimbeni about his scrapbook he creates for the Gonzaga men's basketball team.

The cliché “pictures are worth a thousand words,” has been echoed in society for centuries. With those pictures come memories, whether it be good or bad, and keeping all of those memorable moments together in one can be difficult to do.

However, in the case of the Gonzaga men’s basketball team, one man has been keeping those memories alive and well, and has been doing it for 21 years now.

Spokane native and resident Harold Rusch has been creating scrapbooks for members of the GU hoops team for the past two decades. The 97-year-old took this hobby he started in 2000 and has been running with it ever since, creating 228 books for different members of the team, from coaches to players to even managers.

“These books, when you think about it, can go down 2-3 generations,” Rusch said. “Those books are going to be in these families. There isn’t anybody that puts these books out like this. Coach [Mark] Few said ‘I don’t think there’s a college in the United States that does this. If you were in a bigger college, you’d really be getting a splash.’”

Rusch finds any article, photo or any other form of media and puts them together in a scrapbook. He also includes interesting graphics he finds, whether it be a cool design of a “Go Zags” sign or anything else of that nature. When things get tricky, such as a large photo, Rusch will take the best part of that photo and put it on two separate pages to get the image he wants.

Rusch’s first book was created for Few back in 2000. He took half a book that he put together that year and went over to GU and went upstairs to the office that was above the Charlotte Y. Martin Centre at the time. Rusch proceeded to meet Few, introduced himself and gave him the partial book on the games that had been played thus far. 

The following season, Rusch put another book together for Few and put another partial book together for then GU men’s basketball point guard Dan Dickau.

Dickau’s book was the first Rusch created for players, followed by another book for Blake Stepp and Cory Violette the following two years. He gave Violette three books because he originally saved a book for himself to later find out he didn’t need it. Rusch ran into Stepp and Dickau in Boise, where they told Rusch that the three of them got together and looked through the old memories in the books.

For something as special as these books, Rusch makes sure to put the necessary time in to make it the best product possible, especially toward the end of the season.

For one of the books for Few, he spent almost 100 hours creating it, and in this past season, Rusch was working on six books at once during the Zags’ NCAA Tournament run. Rusch’s family members and neighbors would buy Rusch five extra copies of each respective media outlet's newspaper after every game, and had a difficult time getting the materials needed before the next tournament game. Nevertheless, Rusch works around those obstacles and finishes the job, impressing those who help him in any way they can.

“We have been very impressed that he has taken the time year after year, and every game and every newspaper he has kept,” Rusch’s daughter-in-law Annette said. “His table would be covered, and we’re like, ‘How does he keep that organized?’ But in his mind, he knows exactly who goes where and what album.”

Rusch doesn’t receive any direct help for his scrapbooks. The only help he will receive is getting the materials necessary to put the book together. Other than that, much like a quarterback for an NFL team, Rusch orchestrates what goes where for who, filling out his blueprint for the players to enjoy, making sure no negative article or anything bad about GU is displayed.

Rusch always makes it clear that he wants to be the one presenting the books directly to the players. Few doesn’t tell him who to make books for and Rusch doesn’t let the players know that he’s making these books, keeping it a surprise to see the genuine look of happiness they have on their faces when they see these books.

In a normal non-pandemic environment, Few lets Rusch into practice to give the books, which is something exclusive to only a select few. Once Rusch is at practice, he gets there a bit early and gets a hold of the players' books in exchange for some autographs. 

One thing that’s always repeated to Rusch from the players is these books are great for their mothers. Coming from all backgrounds and being such dominating figures in everyday life, Rusch admires the appreciation these players have for their mothers, and Rusch in response receives phone calls from the players’ mothers saying thank you for the work he has put in.

As previously mentioned, Rusch has made over 228 books, 210 of which have been delivered to these members across the United States and across the globe. Rusch still has 18 books to deliver to players like Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi. Rusch made it a goal of his to deliver the books to these players by hand in any way he can.

During a time that has been so difficult for so many, Rusch has used this time as a way to take his mind off things. His wife died in October, and it has been tough on him. To add on, Rusch contracted COVID-19 through Christmas and New Year's for four weeks and also had an operation to get rid of a lump he had on his cheek, where he will finish his treatment by the end of the month. 

Prior to all of his recent obstacles, Rusch had a battle with bladder cancer in which he came out victorious, and despite it all, he takes the opportunity of creating scrapbooks as a way to keep his mind off those struggles.

Even with everything Rusch has been through; surviving cancer, losing his wife, beating COVID-19 and undergoing a face procedure, he lives on and continues what he loves to do. Whether it be spending time with his family, taking care of his house or his yard or exercising by working out with his 18-pound weights, biking and rolling out four times a week, Rusch continues to shine a light in a world that needs it now more than ever.

And by no means does he have any intentions on ending that soon. The 97-year-old from Spokane wants to reach 100 years old so he can walk around and tell people that he’s 100 years old whenever someone asks. And while the GU men’s basketball team continues to create more memories on the court, you can bet Rusch will continue to be the one documenting these special moments for these special players. 

Pictures are truly worth a thousand words, but not a single scrapbook can summarize the impact and passion Rusch has for his town’s team, the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

“I enjoy doing it,” Rusch said. “Every year it comes up on these books, I keep telling my family,  I’m kind of crazy for putting these books together, but I said when the basketball season starts, bang, I’m right into it again. I’ve been into it now for 21 years. This is just the way it happens. You don’t give it up. It’s just something that’s instilled in you, and you gotta start those books going [again]."

Vinny Saglimbeni is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @vinnysaglimbeni.

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