Individual Special Events: California Polytechnic State University - Bronze Medal

Category 7A: Individual Special Events
California Polytechnic State University,
Mustang Memorial Plaza Dedication

Contact: Polly Harrigan, Director of Advancement Programs, University Advancement, Heron Hall Room 206, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407, Phone: (805) 756-6553, e-mail:

Description of Event: Mustang Memorial Plaza Dedication, September 29, 2006: Cal Poly held a special dedication on September 29, 2006, to commemorate the most significant tragedy in the history of the university. The dedication of the new Mustang Memorial Plaza gave tribute to the 1960 football team and the team members, team manager and team supporter lost in the tragic airplane accident on October 29, 1960, in Toledo, Ohio.

The 2006 renovation of Cal Poly’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium included two significant commemorations of the 1960 football team with the new playing surface named Mustang Memorial Field and an entrance plaza adjacent to the stadium named Mustang Memorial Plaza. The Mustang is the Cal Poly team mascot.

Special attention was given to create a dignified, symbolic space, recognizing the impact of this event in Cal Poly’s history. In the plaza, each of the 18 individuals who perished was honored with a biographical plaque on a copper pillar standing at the height of the team member. During the ceremony, the university also rededicated two plaques commemorating the 1960 football team which had been placed many years ago in visible locations on the campus.

Though the tragedy occurred 46 years earlier, there were many who thought a more prominent monument would more properly memorialize those who lost their lives and remember the sacrifices of the survivors whose lives were permanently affected by this event. The university recognized that there was much work to be done to re-establish relationships, gain trust and create an event that would be remembered and cherished by survivors and family members of those who lost their lives.

Planning and Objectives: Before planning the event, the university established goals and objectives and created a consultation system to ensure the sanctity of the event given the enormity of the impact of the plane crash in the history of the university. These were established in spring 2006.

Goal: To respectfully recognize and permanently preserve the memory of the 1960 Cal Poly Football Team plane crash victims.


  1. Preserve the dignity and integrity of the goal in all pre-planning, actual dedication ceremony, and post follow-up.
  2. Simplicity and sensitivity to family members should be exercised in all decisions and actions pertaining to the actual event and all pre-planning and post-follow up.
  3. Family members' participation will be actively solicited and welcomed.

External Advisory Committee: The role of the EAC was to review dedication ceremony planning efforts and provide advice and counsel to university officials in a timely manner. The seven member committee convened locally on an as-needed basis and provided for a quick response to planning issues needing attention. Electronic communication and assembly was employed as appropriate.

In addition, a second informal committee was established for individual consultation to solicit input on planning issues where broader perspective was necessary. Membership included family members of deceased players, faculty who worked at Cal Poly at the time of the plane crash, and community members who lived in the city at the time of the crash.

In the planning of this event, every decision took into account the importance of respecting the pain and loss that many of the affected families still feel. In the words of a mother whose son died in the plane crash: "I did not choose to be here today." She was there because of tragic circumstances and it was important for the planners of the event to provide not only for her but for the wide variety of emotions still felt by many families.

Start-up and Follow-Through:

Summer and Fall 2005 (Research Phase): Staff assigned to the project began to research the history of the crash and identify the names and relationships of all of those involved in the tragedy and the aftermath. The university archives and athletics offices provided valuable information as did surveys of yearbooks, periodicals, and various documents from the 1960s.

Identify Participants:

  • Identify and establish contact with those involved in the plane crash and the aftermath
  • Identify a family representative for each person on the football team so that each family was involved in making decisions and encouraged to attend the event

With each source of information, staff began to piece together names, addresses and information on teammates and family members. There were also a number of people who worked at the university who helped in the months and years that followed and it was important to identify those who played a role. Any name mentioned through the extensive research was documented, and every effort was made to find each person, inform them of the event and invite their participation. This research was extremely time consuming and continued even in the post-event follow up.

Winter and Spring 2006 (Pre-planning Phase): The first internal planning meetings were held in December 2005, with representatives from across campus. The date of the dedication was set for September 29 in conjunction with completion of the stadium and Mustang Memorial Plaza. A series of other events was planned for the weekend.

At this time, an emeritus administrator was asked by the President to return to campus and lead the effort to plan this event. This individual was asked to work with each survivor and family member and consult with them throughout the process.

The first External Advisory Committee meeting was held and the first of a series of four letters was sent to members of the 1960 football team and their families. Extensive phone contact began and continues to this day.

Summer 2006 (Planning and Implementation): The second and third sets of letters were sent out apprising participants of progress. Each family was asked to review and approve the photo and text for the plaques placed at each player’s pillar. By July, 50 of the 53 families involved had been contacted.

Typical event planning was in high gear during the summer. Every attention to detail was made to ensure a smooth event including: food, photography, videography, seating, audio visual, transportation, hosting, gifts, staging, scripting, program booklet, and graphics.

Fall 2006 (the Event and Follow up): In preparation for the event, final correspondence was completed, details for every guest’s visit was finalized.

More than 500 people attended this event. Feedback from participants was extremely positive. The university sent a scrapbook of photographs and historical articles on the 1960 Cal Poly Mustangs along with a DVD of the dedication ceremony to each family as a memento from the event.

Staff collected a great deal of archival material in the form of photographs, newspaper articles and other memorabilia from the 1960 football team. These formed the basis of the scrapbooks that we sent to the families and are also preserved in the special collections department of the library. All primary material gathered will be sent to University Archives to add to the library's collection on Cal Poly history.

Audience: The direct audience were the 53 family members involved with this plane crash. More than 500 people attended the event with 48 of the 53 families attending. Some were unable to attend for various reasons. We were overjoyed to find one family after the event occurred and were able to hold a separate tribute for their loved one.

Resources, including Budget, Staffing and Volunteers: Four staff from university advancement and athletics assisted with planning and implementation in addition to their other duties. There were 8 volunteers and a cadre of 10 staff who assisted on the day of the event. A volunteer emeritus administrator provided leadership to the program and worked directly with the staff and volunteers.

  • Plaza Dedication Ceremony - $36,280
    • catering, decorations, 18 individual plaza plaques installation and design, photographer, videographer, graphics, programs, transportation, staging, electronics, set up and take down
  • Post Dedication Expenses - $10,885
    • DVD production and photograph scrapbooks

Total: $47,165

Well-Documented Results: In order to evaluate the ceremony, an online survey was designed and distributed to the families who attended the Mustang Memorial Plaza dedication. Of the respondents to the survey thus far, the feedback has been extremely positive. As outlined in our objectives, our overarching goal for this event was to properly honor the 1960 Cal Poly Mustangs. When we asked about this in our survey, 100% of the respondents said that we did so. Besides asking for a "yes" or "no" answer, we also provided a space for comments. Regarding the question on the appropriateness of the event, one respondent wrote:

The many details of each event were attended to with respect and dedication from the committee. It was evident that everyone working on the events was taking pride that they show nothing but respect for all of us and worked hard to accommodate our needs. I appreciate being informed of all the details as they were completed. The committee was awesome!

The Mustang Memorial Plaza Dedication program book has proven to be a very useful tool for connecting with alumni and other friends of the university who remember this tragic event. University advancement staff members have mailed these books to those individuals who have expressed an interest in the Plaza. In one instance, the book was mailed to a Cal Poly alumnus from the class of 1940 who subsequently reconnected with the university and made a major gift.

In conclusion, we feel that Cal Poly's Mustang Memorial Plaza Dedication provides a role model for other colleges and universities planning special events to honor a tragic event. Time does help with the healing. However, we found that it is important for a university community to address its past before it can fully focus on its future.