The Man Behind the Name

Alumnus Bill Eisiminger embraces new fitness center that bears his name

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
November 30, 2011

During a workout at Seattle University’s new William F. Eisiminger Fitness Center, you have to feel gratitude toward the person whose name is on the building.

When Bill Eisiminger, ’67, ’73 MEd, toured the gleaming new facility this fall, he grinned and said, “It’s nice—really nice. This is the realization of a dream not just for me but for our students. Where do I get my pass?”

Eisiminger says he has always had a passion for athletics and fitness and recognized the aging Connolly Center just wasn’t serving the fitness needs of today’s students.“It definitely was time,” he says, in describing his motivation for contributing to the fitness center.

The dynamic donor and member of the Board of Regents is both bold and playful, a lot like the physical education coach he was in the late 1960s and early ’70s for elementary students at Holy Rosary School in West Seattle.

Mark Burnett, associate vice president for University Advancement, describes Eisiminger as one of SU’s most intriguing graduates. “His is a very interesting life story that has been so connected to SU in so many ways for so long,” Burnett says.

There are many reasons why. Long before he entered SU in the early 1960s, Eisiminger watched the campus and surrounding neighborhood go through plenty of changes. He grew up just steps from campus in a Madison Street home that’s now the site of the International House of Pancakes. His older brother and his mom were both SU graduates.

Eisiminger enjoyed being an SU student. In 1967, when he completed his degree in education with a focus on music, he did so with a whopping 310 credits.

Today, he lives not far from the university in a lively high-rise retirement community. It’s here that Eisiminger reaches into one of his closets so he can share a point of tremendous pride—a copy of an author-autographed book, Jimi Hendrix, Voices From Home by Mary Willix. He flips through the hardback until he can find the pages that highlight one of his prized youthful memories.

"This is the realization of a dream not just for me but for our students. Where do I get my pass?”—Bill Eisiminger, on the new fitness center

An accomplished bass and saxophone player and singer, Eisiminger got to know the legendary Jimi Hendrix in English class at Seattle’s Garfield High School. They frequently talked music and jammed together with other young musicians in the basement of one of Eisiminger’s bandmates in The Stags, a rock and rhythm-and-blues group. Before he met Hendrix, Eisiminger played string bass in a rock band called The Angels—he announces that with a devilish grin—when he was a freshman at Seattle Prep. He even took lessons from Seattle jazz great Floyd Standifer.

Students of all ages have meant a lot to Eisiminger over the years. In addition to physical education, he taught science and reading at Holy Rosary for five years and became a vice principal there before he returned to SU to get his master’s in education in 1973. He then became principal at Holy Family Parish School in Kirkland.

By 1980, he had it in mind to take a year off from his work at Holy Family. When he did, he started to buy real estate. He purchased so much residential and commercial property, he found he couldn’t straddle two careers. Soon he became president and owner of Barcelona Enterprises Inc., a prospering real estate investment and management company.

The more successful he became, the more scholarship endowments he chose to create for Catholic school students in need. In addition to SU, the Fulcrum Foundation, Holy Names Academy and John F. Kennedy High School have been among his top charities. He also gave the gift that created Elgin Baylor Court at KeyArena at Seattle Center when SU returned to Division I athletics. (Eisiminger has included Seattle University in his estate planning and established a charitable remainder trust.)

Nearly three years ago, his life took a big turn.

His first notion something was wrong came when he regained consciousness in his wrecked car after he ran into a half dozen parked vehicles near campus. Eisiminger had no clue what happened. He returned home, slept and came to the Chapel of St. Ignatius the next morning for Mass and a Regents meeting. But he was having trouble organizing his thoughts and putting words together to speak. Before long, he was in an ambulance on the way to Swedish Medical Center.

Doctors told him he suffered a series of seven strokes. The way Eisiminger sees it, one life ended and another began that day.
Today, he’s on the road to recovery. Five days a week he is in physical therapy, hopeful about regaining his strength and mobility. Through it all, his playful sense of humor remains intact.

He’s looking forward to using the fitness center soon. “This new fitness center will be especially good for my exercises, too,” he says with a smile.

The generosity of alumnus Bill Eisiminger, at his home in Seattle, helped make the new fitness center a reality at SU.