By Kandi Carper ’05
When people think of Eastern’s official song, the fight song usually comes to mind, but did you know that the university also has an Alma Mater?
Alma Mater typically describes the school from which someone graduates, but it also refers to a song associated with a university. Every year, All Hail to Eastern Washington, EWU’s Alma Mater, is performed at Commencement.
Alumnus George W. Lotzenhiser composed the music and lyrics for Eastern’s Alma Mater in 1947. As a member of the chorus he said he was tired of singing the former song, a musical piece from one of Brahms’ symphonies. ““It wasn’t ours,” said Lotzenhiser. “So I came up with a new one. The music and the words came together simultaneously. I was just humming along one day. My wife said it sounded like a hymn.” Writing Eastern’s first original Alma Mater is just one of Lotzenhiser’s many contributions to the university.
Born in Spokane, Lotzenhiser graduated from North Central High School and came to Eastern in 1941 on a trombone music scholarship – the first ever awarded. Lotzenhiser’s degree plans were interrupted when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942, for the express assignment to play trombone in the Navy Band at the Naval Reserve Air Base in Pasco, Wash. It was there that Lotzenhiser met his future wife of 63 years, Kathryn “B.K.,” who was the first woman from Tacoma to enlist in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (the WAVES).
After the war, Lotzenhiser returned to complete his studies at Eastern. He served as the school’s first married student body president. He assisted in petitioning the state legislature to give Eastern Washington College of Education permission to grant a Liberal Arts degree. A “degree bill” was passed and the state’s colleges of education were able to grant degrees in fields other than education, making EWCE a true liberal arts college. Lotzenhiser (because of where his name fell alphabetically) was the first graduate to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Eastern in 1947, with a major in music.
Lotzenhizer went on to earn his master’s degree in music from the University of Michigan and his doctoral degree in education/music from the University of Oregon. He served as faculty and marching band director at the University of Arizona before returning to Eastern in 1960.
Eastern President Don Patterson requested that Lotzenhiser return to Eastern to serve as a professor of music and to create the college’s first School of Fine Arts with the consolidation of the Art, Theatre, RTV, Speech Correction, Communications and Music departments. Lotzenhiser worked with architects to design the campus’ first Fine Arts Complex in the early 1970s and he served as the first Dean of the School of Fine Arts until his retirement in 1983.
After retiring from Eastern, Lotzenhiser and B.K. moved to Whidbey Island. She passed away in 2006.
In addition to his career in academia, Lotzenhiser has had a distinguished career in the U.S. Navy. He served on active duty in the Naval Reserves during WWII (1942-46) and Korea (1950-52), and was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral in 1977.
Lotzenhiser’s music career began at an early age. He played trombone with vaudeville bands (including a gig with comedian Jack Benny), as well as with orchestras throughout the country. He’s a published composer and accomplished conductor. Over the years, he’s served as a guest director with his son Jon’s musical theatre in Walnut Creek, Calif., and he came out of retirement to take up the baton for a concert with the Navy Band Northwest in 2009.
At age 90, Lotzenhiser remains active and continues to support the university. In March 2013, he traveled from his home in Coupeville, Wash., to Spokane to be the guest speaker at EWU’s Military Ball- a Navy Rear Admiral at an Army ROTC event – another first, and like all Lotzenhiser’s contributions, much appreciated.
Eastern Washington University’s Alma Mater
All hail to Eastern Washington,
Thy colors red and white!
You stand as a symbol,
Of our strength and might!
All hail to Eastern Washington,
A leader brave and true!
We sing the praise of college days,
All hail to you!
– George W. Lotzenhiser