In the 90th year of a life otherwise remarkably free of them, Gus Stuhldreher confessed one regret.
A native of Barberton, Ohio, Stuhldreher was an honorable veteran of World War II who had risen to the rank of colonel during his wartime service. He also was a graduate of Harvard Business School who held an additional master’s degree from there as well as a degree from Harvard Law School.
A long-time employee of Firestone Tire and Rubber, he had married happily, been blessed by four sons, a daughter, and several grandchildren and was a comfortable and contented member of the Laurel Lake Retirement Community of Hudson, Ohio.
But his one regret resulted from what he called “a difficult decision” that he had made in 1943 to leave the University of Notre Dame, where he had studied and lived and loved for three years, to attend Harvard.
Stuhldreher’s longing for a Notre Dame degree in business administration, or “commerce,” as it was called in the 1940s, was deeply intertwined with other affections and associations in his life. For one thing, his cousin, 1925 Notre Dame alumnus Harry Stuhldreher, was one of the “Four Horsemen” football players made legendary by the sportswriter Grantland Rice, and for another, two of his children and two of his grandchildren were Notre Dame alumni, and for yet another, and perhaps much more, he had met his wife, Eleanor, at Notre Dame.
They had been married for 62 years when she died in 2006, and Suhldreher never tired of telling his family and friends the story of how he had proposed to her in the Log Chapel at the heart of Notre Dame’s campus—how just before the junior prom, the two of them had knelt together at the communion rail there and how he had taken her hand and placed a ring on her finger.
“Since that day, every day of my life, I have been thanking God for that wonderful lady,” Stuhldreher said.
Stuhldreher’s somewhat unrequited love of Notre Dame was well known to his family and friends. One person deeply touched by his story was Mary Tatman, the chaplain of the Laurel Lake Retirement Community. Another, significantly, was Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president, to whom Tatman wrote a letter about it.
Which is how it came about this past July 2, his 90th birthday, that Stuhldreher found himself at the center of a surprise graduation ceremony at Laurel Lake, receiving a bachelor of science degree in commerce from the University of Notre Dame. Hastily supplied with the traditional blue academic gown, the mortarboard hat and the golden tassel, he received the degree he had so longed for from the hands of Robert Meeker, a 1966 Notre Dame graduate and past president of the Notre Dame Club of Akron, many of whose members were among the 125 friends and Stuhldreher relatives on hand to congratulate and pray with him, and, of course, to sing Notre Dame’s Alma Mater and Victory March.
Surprised as he was, Notre Dame’s most recent graduate gave a five-minute speech of gratitude, referring again to the Log Chapel proposal he had made to his wife 68 years ago and pronouncing himself delighted but “just plain overhelmed” by the erasure of his sole regret.
It was a scrapbook moment, this return and rewelcome of one of Our Lady’s sons, if not exactly a prodigal, no less dear to the Notre Dame family for all that.