Oct 14, 2016, 9:57 AM EST
NOTE: This story appears in the Notre Dame-Stanford football gameday program.
The honorees include a Pope and presidents of both the United States of America and the University of Notre Dame. In all, 286 individuals are part of this exclusive company and everyone has their own story that led them to earning an honorary Monogram.
Some have contributed from afar, while others have devoted a significant portion of their professional lives to Notre Dame and its athletics department. Their service has impelled the Monogram Club to welcome them as honorary members.
“It’s a great honor to be a member of the Monogram Club,” Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly said after receiving an honorary Monogram in September of 2013. “It’s greatly appreciated, because after being here four years now, I know what it takes to be a Monogram winner. The sacrifice that you have to make to earn that ND is incredible. I get a chance to see it every day. I live it in the day-to-day discourse with our student-athletes.”
The Monogram Club, which was founded in 1916 and is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, began awarding honorary Monograms in 1949. Jack “Mac” MacAllister was the first recipient for his longtime service as the superintendent of equipment for all Notre Dame athletic teams.
Rev. George Holderith, C.S.C. (’18, ’32), the sixth recipient, was presented an honorary Monogram in 1953 for his tenure as head coach of the men’s golf program, which captured the 1944 NCAA championship under his direction. National championship football coaches Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz also are honorary members of the Club.
Another Notre Dame coach who has hoisted national championship hardware and donned a Monogram jacket is women’s basketball head mentor Muffet McGraw. Joining McGraw in the honorary Monogram class of 1997 was Gerald Ford, who became the second United States President to garner an honorary citation. Ronald Reagan was welcomed in 1981, 41 years after portraying four-time Monogram winner George Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American.
Former Notre Dame president Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. (‘39) and current president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. (’76, ‘78) both are honorary Monogram Club members. The Club even extends to Vatican City as Pope John Paul II was awarded an honorary Monogram in 1979.
While the aforementioned individuals are household names, many honorary Monogram recipients have been extremely instrumental behind the scenes at Notre Dame. The names might not be immediately recognizable, but the impact they’ve had on Fighting Irish athletics in undeniable. The work does not go unnoticed as evidenced by the amount of honorary nominations the Monogram Club receives from its members wishing these outstanding contributors can become valuable additions to the Club.
Seeking adulation for their deeds isn’t a priority for these individuals, which makes it fitting that they are kept in the dark up until the moment they are presented with the iconic Monogram jacket. The issuing of an honorary Monogram is a surprise to the acceptor and the Club had the privilege of recently hosting two such ceremonies.
Tony Rolinski was bestowed an honorary Monogram for his 18-plus years of service with the Notre Dame strength and conditioning staff. Rolinski has trained hundreds of Irish student-athletes across several sports and he currently works directly with the men’s basketball and hockey programs, which are guided by honorary Monogram members Mike Brey and Jeff Jackson, respectively. Brey, Jackson and several of their current and former players were on hand during Rolinski’s presentation.
“This is certainly something I never expected,” Rolinski stated. “This is a surprise. When I got into this business 25 years ago all I ever wanted to do was make a difference and I think I achieved that. The relationships that you build over the years are why the great coaches do this. That’s why I appreciate this business and that’s why I appreciate all of you.”
Just like Rolinski, the most recent honorary Monogram recipient, Joe Mendelson, has had a profound impact on numerous Notre Dame student-athletes and coaches. Mendelson established the Joseph T. Mendelson Endowment for Athletics Excellence, which provides funding so that Notre Dame’s Olympic sport programs can enhance high-performance technology capabilities. The fund was established in 2006 and has covered the cost for items such as golf simulators, swimming platforms, video analysis equipment and GPS trackers used for training.
“It was the best kept secret in the world,” Mendelson said of his honorary Monogram presentation. “I had no idea I’d even be considered for it.”
What isn’t a secret is the impact Mendelson and the other honorary Monogram members have had on Notre Dame Athletics, and the Monogram Club is proud to issue them appreciation and an invitation to the Club.