News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

May 14, 2011

B-SIDES: A man who ushered in history; Pete Ray, a Hulman Center original

TERRE HAUTE — The people came to see the likes of Larry Bird, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the cast of “Sesame Street.”

But the one face seen most often by visitors to Hulman Center since the place opened nearly 38 years ago belonged to Maurice “Pete” Ray. He took the first ticket when the building debuted on Dec. 14, 1973, when the host Indiana State University Sycamores took on Purdue. Last Saturday, Ray was still on the job as lead usher for ISU’s 2011 spring commencement ceremonies.

“I’d introduce him, saying, ‘This is Pete Ray, and he comes with the building,’” said Fred Clark, the assistant director of facilities and operations at ISU.

Ray died at age 84 Thursday morning in Union Hospital after a bout with pneumonia, said his brother-in-law, Jim Brown.

In 1973, Ray, then the personnel manager at the Quaker Maid plant in Terre Haute, added the job as Hulman Center usher when recruited by former usher supervisor Dick Roberts, Brown explained. He never quit.

Through hundreds of concerts, basketball games, stage productions, weddings and seminars, Ray guided people to the right spots in the 10,200-seat facility. Eventually, Ray became lead usher, and continued to supervise and schedule a 70-person usher crew through last weekend.

That stretch included, of course, the unforgettable Bird era of ISU basketball. The ushers were at their busiest back then, when students would camp outside the Hulman Center doors, and then rush in to get the prime seats, back in the days of first-come-first-served seating. The students also scavenged toilet paper from their dorms, and sometimes the Hulman Center restrooms, to hurl into the air above the court when the Sycamores were introduced before tipoff. The resulting pile of wide confetti had to be swept up, and the ushers swung into action.

“It was a great time,” said Brown, also a veteran Hulman Center usher. “Never another one like it.”

Brown joined the usher crew in 1975, and said only a handful of the original team remain. One of those guys, Jack Vicars, occasionally suits up for duty, added Clark. Ray remained a regular, and his kind, affable demeanor will be missed, said Judy Price, assistant director for conferences and event services at ISU.

She served as Ray’s direct supervisor the last several years, “which is kind of funny, because I learned so much from him every day,” Price said.

In an emotional voice, Price expressed her gratitude for having known Ray, whose office was just down the hall from hers. “If he had retired at age 65 like lots of people do, I would never have come in contact with him,” she said. “He was just a bright, shining light who was so generous and thought of others before himself.

“He was a true servant leader,” Price added.

Fittingly, services for Ray will be in Hulman Center on Sunday, May 15. Visitation is from 1 p.m. until the time of the funeral service, set to begin at 6.

“He was like Mr. ISU,” said Brown.

“He was true blue,” added Clark. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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