Reflecting on a Golden Era
Nov. 2, 2013
By Reid Oslin
Boston College was a far different place when Bobbi McKuskie Decker ’70 – BC’s first “Golden Girl” feature baton twirler – arrived on campus in the fall of 1965.
The university was a male-dominated institution at the time - the College of Arts & Sciences and College of Business Administration had no female undergraduates and the few female resident students enrolled in the Schools of Nursing and Education were required to live in off-campus housing. Jesuit priests held most of the educational and administrative leadership posts.
At that same time, young Bobbi McKuskie of Nashua, N.H. was the reigning “New Hampshire Junior Miss” and had won the national Junior Miss talent contest with her baton-twirling skills. As a high school senior exploring her higher education options, she sent letters to college marching bands from New England to Southern California to determine if there was interest in her talents. Peter Siragusa, the long-time director of BC’s musical marching ensemble, offered her a scholarship to come to Chestnut Hill and become BC’s first solo twirler.
She jumped at the opportunity. The rest was history.
“I was pretty well scrutinized when I came to BC,” Decker said recently from her home in San Mateo, Calif., where she has been a top-level real estate broker for the past 33 years. Bobbi is currently vice president of commercial real estate development for Sotheby’s; the host and producer of a popular California real estate television show; and weekly columnist for the real estate pages of the Sunday San Francisco Examiner newspaper.
“People watched everything you did on and off the field,” she said about her early days at BC. “Some of the Jesuits wanted to keep it a boys’ college, but there were two wonderful priests – Rev. Edward J. Gorman, SJ [a counselor in the School of Nursing] and BC Band faculty moderator Rev. Joseph Glavin, SJ [a philosophy teacher]- who were just great to me and really helped me out. Peter [Siragusa] was always very ‘fatherly’ to me, too,” she said. “That really meant a lot.”
Decker recalls that one of the sticking points with her new role as “Golden Girl” was the costume that she would wear for her halftime performances. “They told me that my skirt could not be too short,” she said, recalling that her first outfit included a maroon skirt that went to mid-thigh. “But do you know what saved me? A year or 18 months later, the ‘mini-skirt’ revolution came in, so they figured that as long as I didn’t have skirts as short as the one that we were seeing on TV and in magazines, I was safe. By sophomore year, I had a gold twirling uniform.”
With her skills and enthusiasm, the newly-nicknamed “Golden Girl” quickly became the face of the BC Marching Band. When she arrived in 1965, the Band numbered only about 60 maroon blazer-clad playing members. In ensuing years, Siragusa increased the size of the band with female as well as male musicians; added a team of baton-twirling majorettes and a flag-line; and updated the Band’s uniforms.
Decker’s performance trademark involved a pair of flaming batons that she would twirl and then launch high into the sky, catching them behind her back as they came down.
At one game in her junior year, the flaming baton trick backfired. “The end of the baton was not screwed on properly and it went flying off towards the tuba section in mid-performance,” she recalled with a laugh. Fortunately, the flying flames did not strike any band members, but left a charred mark on the grass surface of Alumni Stadium.
Bobbi transferred from BC’s School of Nursing into Education after her freshman year and needed an extra semester to finish the academic requirements for a teaching degree in science. This academic extension gave her an extra football season as BC’s “Golden Girl” – much to the delight of football fans in Chestnut Hill.
At the conclusion of her final halftime performance at Alumni Stadium in 1969, she walked off the field and was met by Richard Cardinal Cushing, the Archbishop of Boston who had attended BC before entering the seminary and was a long-time Eagle football rooter. ‘I thought that I would die,” Decker said recalling the moment. “He said, ‘Bless you, child. You have done well for the college.’ Just the fact that he reached out to me that way – I was just stunned.”
After BC, Decker performed during halftime shows at the New England Patriots’ new stadium in Foxborough, prompting team owner Billy Sullivan – a 1937 BC grad – to ask her to coach the newly-launched New England Patriettes cheerleading squad. She handled that assignment for several seasons before relocating to California and eventually establishing her successful real estate career.
Decker recalls that the strict regulations in off-campus living quarters for BC women in the 1960’s required that the female students be properly dressed – no slacks, shorts, bathrobes or curlers – any time that they came out of their rooms. The rule was enforced by “house mothers” who supervised each residential facility. “Whenever you went out of the building, you were expected to dress as a representative of Boston College,” Decker said. “Now, whenever I am doing anything that might be on TV or radio or in front of the public, I have learned to be appropriately dressed.
“My education at Boston College has served me well,” she declared. “I wound up taking some pretty tough subjects – chemistry, biology, anatomy – they took no prisoners in those courses!”
Decker returned to campus in 1993 to participate in a BC Band reunion at one of the home football games. “But I didn’t know that they were going to ask me to perform at halftime. Somebody handed me two batons and I just did it. It was so cool to come back.
“People didn’t understand how prejudiced it was back when I started and how quickly it all flipped.”