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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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Bill Voigt meets with Steve Fisher. Bill Voigt meets with Steve Fisher.

Bill Vogt’s Big Surprise

A campus visit had an unexpected ending for a 103-Year-Old alum.
By Tobin Vaughn

Bill Vogt (’34) was an Aztec before the current San Diego State campus was completed. He had already attended classes for a semester at the old University Heights location before the school moved to Montezuma Mesa in 1931.

It was during the Great Depression. He recalled the new campus being nice, but spare.

"It was new, but it wasn't elaborate, it was very plain,” Vogt remembered. “I don't think we ever had even a paved parking lot and very little lawn space just in the little quad; it was kind of raw."

At that time the only thing on campus named Hardy was the institution’s second president, Edward L. Hardy. "As I remember, he was very low-key,” Vogt said.

“He was very quiet and what I would call the old-fashioned type. I would guess he never had a drink or a cigarette or any tobacco in his life and he was very prim."

Loyal to SDSU

Vogt shared these memories during a March 8 campus visit with his son, Bob Vogt, and daughter, Michelle “Shelley” Moss (’69).  It was just weeks after his 103rd birthday.

Bob arranged the family tour so his dad could see some of the changes on campus since his days as a student more than 80 years ago. 

"My dad is really proud of his college and he is very, very loyal to San Diego as a community and particularly loyal to San Diego State,” he explained. “It means a lot to him and my family.”

They stopped by the campus War Memorial so Vogt could look up a nephew whose name is engraved on the granite monument. They marveled at the size of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union, took a spin through the Old Quad, and posed for pictures in front of Hepner Hall.

A senior Aztec

The next attraction was Viejas Arena, which none of them had gone inside before.  All three are fans of the Aztec men’s basketball team and rarely miss a game on TV.

Bill Vogt was excited to see where the Aztecs play, but when they were ushered to the court, the family discovered it was occupied — by the team. Bob had received advance clearance for his dad to watch practice and the three sat silently listening to the coaches’ instructions and watching the players run through drills.

After it was over, Coach Steve Fisher welcomed the Vogts and introduced his players to the man who may very well currently be the most senior of all Aztecs.  Sophomore guard Trey Kell was surprised to learn that, like him, Bill Vogt had also graduated from San Diego’s St. Augustine High School just more than eight and a half decades earlier.

The team and Fisher autographed a basketball for Vogt and the coach managed a few minutes to chat with the visitors. Once they departed, the Vogts compared notes.

A big highlight

"It was very fun,” Moss said. “I was impressed with all of the kids. They just seem like nice young men and so polite. 

"It's a highlight in my dad’s life and it's a big highlight in my life because I never get to go to the basketball games. I always just see them on TV, so it was so fun to see them in person and just see — oh, my gosh — they’re big guys!"

Vogt admitted to having been completely surprised by the arena tour and watching the team practice.

"It was beautiful and I do appreciate it,” he said. “I have a great deal of respect for Coach Fisher and the team. I watch them all the time. I didn't think I would ever have a chance just to shake hands with them.

An inspiration and example

Bob Vogt was pleased that his dad had enjoyed the campus tour and the surprise meeting with the Aztecs players and coaches. 

"I knew it would mean something to him,” he said. “I knew it would be a good day for him and I can just imagine the memories that probably connect even today.

“It's just such an inspiration and an example to be around somebody who is still connected to life and enjoying each day. There's almost no limitation to his curiosity and engagement in most everything in life.

“It just seemed like it would be great for him to meet these fellas and to meet Coach and for them to know him. I always tell people, 'You get to meet my dad no charge.'"

On the right track

As one of the few remaining people — if not the only person — who were there at the very beginning of the current campus, Bill Vogt is uniquely qualified to speak to its transformation. What were his thoughts after his March visit?

“It's amazing how the campus has developed over the years since my memory of the old campus,” he said. "I didn't even realize the campus could ever be large like this from the little school that I attended with 1,300 enrollment.

“It's unimaginable it would have the future that it has had and it's got a long way to go, apparently. It looks to me like, with everything, they are on the right track."

Bill Vogt should know. He was there from the start.