Margaret Gisolo's extraordinary life ended in Tempe, Ariz., on October 20, 2009, a few hours before her 95th birthday. A first-generation American, she was born October 21, 1914, in Blanford, Ind., to Italian immigrant parents, Nicolao and Metilde Bellezza Gisolo. Margaret Gisolo enjoyed a long and distinguished career in athletics and dance. She was a pioneer in women's sports, helped establish and served as chairperson of the dance program at Arizona State University, was the recipient of honorary degrees from two universities, and was an inductee into the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago for lifetime achievement, among other awards and accomplishments. While playing American Legion baseball at the age of 14, she sent the world of youth athletics spinning and helped open the door for increased acceptance of women in sports. On June 18, 1928, Gisolo's Blanford Cubs took on the Clinton Baptists to crown the champion of Indiana's Vermillion County. In the top of the 12th, Gisolo knocked in the winning run. Clinton protested the loss, saying that the League was reserved for boys only. A three-man commission, including Major League Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, eventually ruled in favor of Margaret's eligibility. The team went on to capture the Indiana state championship and compete at Chicago's Comiskey Park. Because of her accomplishments and the high profile of the case, thousands of girls across the country wanted to sign up for American Legion baseball, but the rules were changed the next year barring girls from play. This ruling stood until the 1970s. This gifted athlete turned her attention to dance in college and she graduated from Indiana State University. After serving as the Supervisor of the Physical Education Program for schools in Paris, Ill., for five years, she earned the Master of Arts Degree at New York University. She enlisted in the Navy to serve in World War II, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. After the war she taught dance at Indiana State College in Pennsylvania and studied dance at Columbia University for a year before moving to Arizona in 1953. Further study included work with Mary Wigman, Martha Graham, and Jose Limon. She joined the Arizona State University faculty in 1954 and served as Chairperson of the program in dance until 1977. During her tenure she built what now is recognized as one of the top university dance programs in the country as evidenced by the invitation in 1974 to become a member of the prestigious national Council of Dance Administrators. Margaret also established and funded a Summer Study Award program that gave scholarships to gifted students for professional summer training. She was a founding and supporting member of the Friends of ASU Dance and the Arizona Dance Arts Alliance. In 1979, Margaret received the Arizona State University Distinguished Teacher Award. After retiring in 1980, she wrote a history of Dance Companies in the State of Arizona. Copies of this unpublished document are housed in the New York City Public Library Dance Collection and the Lincoln Center Library, among others. She also resumed playing tennis and soon was on the national circuit. Margaret was nationally ranked until 2000, when at age 86 she stopped traveling to national matches. She was ranked first in doubles and second in singles. Margaret has received numerous accolades for her work in dance as well as sport. In 1982, Indiana State University named her a Distinguished Alumna. In 1985 she was awarded the ASU Fine Arts Distinguished Achievement Award. In 1994 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by Arizona State University. In 1996 she received an Honorary Doctorate from Indiana State University and was inducted into their Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998 for her lifetime accomplishments in sports. Margaret was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in May 2004. She is included in Diamond Dreams, a permanent exhibit celebrating women in baseball, at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The permanent exhibit opened in May 2006 and features a baseball autographed for Margaret in 1928 by Baseball Commissioner Landis. Margaret Gisolo was preceded in death by her parents, as well as siblings Toney Gisolo, Joe Gisolo, Louise Gisolo Cox, Dom Gisolo, and Mary Gisolo Oppenheimer. Her legacy lives through the many persons whose lives have been touched by her knowledge, enthusiasm, professionalism and pioneering spirit. She is an inspiration to, and will be missed by her nieces and nephews, Larry and Mary Kay Gisolo Burton of Little Rock, Ark.; Keith and Jane Gisolo Goetz of Ottawa, Ill.; Myron and Carol Frohbieter Oppenheimer of Fairfield, Ill., Robert Oppenheimer of Los Angeles, Calif.; Albert and Donna Gisolo Christenberry of Terre Haute, Ind.; four great-nephews; four great-nieces; nine great-great nieces and nephews; cousin Cesare Lamberto of Lanzo, Italy, and legions of friends, colleagues, students, admirers, and her care givers. A "Celebration of Life" will be held on Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 2:00 p.m. at the Dance Studio Theatre, Physical Education Building East, on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, AZ. Memorial contributions may be made payable to the ASU Foundation, attention: "Margaret Gisolo Scholarship in Dance." Mail to: Development Office, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University, PO Box 872102, Tempe, AZ 85287-2102. Contributions may be made via credit card by calling Christine Austin,(480) 727-7785.
Published in The Arizona Republic on Nov. 8, 2009.