Ushering in the end of an era
Stadium usher hired by Rockne at age 12 to retire after 60 years at ND
At the end of the football season, one man will retire after 60 years of greeting Notre Dame fans eager to see Fighting Irish teams battle opponents on the field.
Victor Couch, 86, started working as an usher when Knute Rockne hired him in 1926 to usher in Cartier Field at age 12. Although Couch was not old enough to usher when Notre Dame Stadium was erected in 1930, Couch was hired as a stadium usher in 1941 after a few years on the waitlist. Since then Couch has remained on the 850-member team of stadium ushers, waking up every football Saturday for his part-time job at Notre Dame.
"He's sort of a fixture at Notre Dame like the Golden Dome and the Grotto," said Russell "Cappy" Gagnon, coordinator of stadium personnel.
"Everybody is so nice and so considerate. You just can't help but love what you're doing," said Couch.
Although, he was a stadium usher for 60 years, Couch, since his job at Cartier Field, has been affiliated with the University for 74 years.
Couch has seen many Irish football teams, head coaches and a renovation in the Stadium, but the change he identified as the largest was the expansion of parking.
"I would have to rush over to [the campus after work] on Saturdays," said Couch about earlier years of ushering. "That's when you could get a parking space."
Though parking is more limited, Couch still manages to get on campus and said he always enjoys the games.
Couch now works in an alumni-filled section of the stadium, but he once ushered in the student section, where he said he enjoyed the energy of the students even if at times it was hard to control the section.
"They were full of pep all over the place," said Couch. "You couldn't get them to sit down like they were supposed to."
Clark said that alumni who knew him as students have come back for games and encouraged him to continue to usher. Others, Couch said have asked him, "When are you going to call it quits?"
"It makes me proud to be an usher at Notre Dame," said Couch and said he will remain an avid Notre Dame fan after he stops ushering.
Before Couch retired, he worked as a road driver for Latheworks in South Bend for 15 years. Often during the week, Couch would eat in South Dining Hall with his wife who was a clerk in the old University bookstore.
Gagnon, who has been the head of stadium ushers for six years, said Couch represents the usher mission, which is to be "ambassadors for Notre Dame."
As ambassadors, Gagnon said the ushers have to be well-groomed, with white collared shirts, dress slacks and ties — but the dress code is not the only defining characteristic of the "ambassadors."
Gagnon said while the ushers are allowed to be — and overwhelmingly are — Notre Dame fans, they need to be objective in the stadium so as not to seem biased to guests from other teams.
"Can you put your fanship aside a little bit and instead be a host for a little bit?" Gagnon said, asking a common question that he wants the ushers to answer affirmatively.
Gagnon said this policy has worked and people often call him to complement the ushers.
The stadium ushers — 500 of whom are unpaid volunteers — come from various places and backgrounds to work at Notre Dame football games. These include Tim Schwartz of Louisville, Ky. who drives to South Bend starting at 12 a.m. Saturdays and arrives at 6 a.m. Gagnon said as an early shift usher, he offered Schwartz pay, but he wouldn't except it.
"We have so many people who work for free just to be part of Notre Dame," said Gagnon.
Another traveling usher is a physician from Washington, DC who is not ushering this season because of his job. However, he used to fly to South Bend for games regularly.
Gagnon said he was thoroughly impressed with Jim Hall, an usher at the wheelchair entrance who uses a wheelchair himself. At the Texas A&M game, Hall gave up his wheelchair so that senior citizens that had trouble moving quickly in the 100 degree-plus weather could get to their seats more easily.
"I think that's an incredible act of kindness," said Gagnon.
Couch said that he has not seen any stadium with the amount of ushers that Notre Dame has nor the quality of service they provide.
After the final score decides the winner of the last home game of the season against Boston College on Nov. 11, the stadium ushers will lose a staff member, but retain a man who intends to remain an ambassador for Notre Dame forever.
"I love Notre Dame very, very much," said Couch.
All News Stories for Friday, October 27, 2000