CHARTERING OHIO GAMMA OF SIGMA ALPHA EPISLON
By Patt Wardlaw
The Ohio Gamma founding is a story that simply needs to be told. After our fiftieth reunion, Brother Bill Cook remarked during our final breakfast, "You know, no other group of guys could have ever accomplished what we did." I had to agree.
At the risk of appearing self-serving, I can tell the story best in the first person. In no way do I mean to assume the credit for the things this unique collection of dedicated individuals accomplished. Our synergy, which enabled us to become such an outstanding brotherhood, was palpable; that the active Chapter on campus has endured more than half a century validates our vision.
I entered Ohio University in February of 1950. Dating "Pudge" Laux, a Sigma Kappa, the concept of becoming a Greek was appealing. Being rushed by a variety of fraternities, I attended "smokers" and other events but, having been away from college for three years, was older than most fraternity pledges. Closer in age to many juniors and some seniors, the idea of pledging and eventually going through "hell-week" under younger "kids" wasn't inviting. I leaned toward Sigma Chi but their 100-plus year old chapter seemed a little stuffier than I might enjoy.
One of the Men's Dorm residents overheard me talking this over with Leo Milicivic, my future roommate to be, and mentioned a new local fraternity being formed by a handful of older students, which including some Veterans of WWII. It had all started one night in a dorm shower room, when four of them cooked up the idea. Meeting and liking them, towards the end of that first semester, I made the decision to get involved but couldn't actually become an active because I had entered the school on probation and active status wasn't allowed. The irony became, that by the next semester, when my grades allowed me join a fraternity, the chapter had already been formalized and I could only come in as a pledge. Having been involved since much earlier and, being friends with the actives, I didn't think that would be too difficult, so pledged in the fall of '50. I was still a pledge when appointed Social Chairman for the entire group, helped by my S K girlfriend, later pin-mate and mother of my children.
When this founding group had gone to the Dean to propose their idea, they were informed of a pre-existing local named Gamma Gamma Gamma, which had folded during the depression. That had been twenty years earlier and it seemed, in fact, a better idea to assume the old group's name, instead of starting from scratch, possibly creating some "instant alumni". Later, it would pay dividends in some solid friendly guidance and financial support from the many old alums that took part, some of which were allowed to become initiated into at our installation in 1953.
Local fraternities had less "famous" names and an in-transfer student named Jim Ramsey inspired the prospect of going national at some future date, early on. Jim had been an active elsewhere and wanted to become affiliated with an OU Greek group but not a different national. He praised the organization and, since it was the biggest National not already on the campus; the Tri-Gams began to talk about it, however remote the possibility. Jim helped us contact National when it was time.
With many of our early actives and pledges so much more mature than most of the student body, things organized swiftly. A small house was rented, an aggressive social program begun and the chapter got down to business. Our first president had been Ed Hanak with Doug Johnson succeeding him to continue the organizational period through the fall of 1950 and into 1951. By late spring of 1951 the total membership, which had grown to 40-some, needed a bigger house.
"FAME AND FORTUNE": A SPECTACULAR YEAR
OUR FRATERNITY RADIO STATION
John Curran and John Day were photo majors, finding time on their hands and always tinkering with model airplanes and other hobbies. They finally built a crystal radio and figured how to bug all the radios in the house. That spawned the idea of creating a chapter radio station. Research discovered an unlicensed but technically legal way to do it, transmitting over power lines radiating within certain legal parameters. They worked day and night and created WGAM, which could be heard throughout most of the campus. I later heard John Curran ended up as a broadcast engineer.
We had many radio majors and some worked at the local commercial station, WATH. When they came off shift there, they would bring in the AP wire printout and that's how we got our news. At the peak, we operated from 6AM to 1AM and dedicated the after-curfew DJ show to a different sorority or girls dorm every night; that was most productive in making the phone ring! You can read and see more photos of the station in the Petition Brochure. The experience taught me the power of radio and I ended up in a broadcasting career that spanned three decades, operating radio stations.
OUR FIRST TROPY
Early the next spring ('52) we won our first trophy by creating the winning float for the Greek Week Parade and carrying the Alpha Delta Pi candidate for Queen, Susan Kunkel, who actually won the crown. The brothers had agreed this could be a real doable opportunity to make a statement and worked exhaustingly into the night before the parade.
As President, here I am accepting the award, which was presented at the big Inter Fraternity Council (IFC) ball by IFC president, John Butrain, a Beta; as famous big-band leader, Woody Herman, looks on, over my shoulder. After celebrating appropriately, we immediately and optimistically designated a sitting room with fireplace, just off the living room, as our "trophy room" and displayed the lone trophy, proudly. Before too many semesters, that room would become crowded with other awards and trophies evidencing the Chapter's successes. One of them even happened to be for a short-lived # 1 in scholarship, our second "win".
THE PARTY BOYS
The original Tri-Gam Chapter had hosted an annual formal dance with the outrageous name, "PURPLE PARROT". It was Bill Herr who came up with the idea to revive the tradition and Don Geaman chaired the first one in the Spring of 1952. Bill decorated the house, wonderfully colorful. The event was a smashing success and being invited to the Purple Parrot became a status symbol. By 1953 it was so big we co-hosted it with the Chi-Omega Sorority, took over the Student Union and hired the most popular Ray Anthony's band to play for us. The "Bunny Hop" was Anthony's big hit then and when we all did it in "time" until it set up a harmonic vibration at the Center. The joint was literally "jumpin"! That hop was never to be performed again in that building.
It was ironic that we became known as the party boys of the fraternity world at the same time as winning the fraternity Scholarship trophy. While other chapters frequented the in-town Tavern and highway Club 33, we found a small basement level bar out of town in a rural area. We could have privacy from other college students to formulate our plans and wishfully and secretly learn the songs of . The bar was called "The Elms" and an owner named "Goody" ran it with his wife. We became their darlings as we organized an "Elm Run" almost nightly, after study and the co-ed's curfew of 10 PM (on weeknights). No other group was ever able to invade our territory. Our reputation for partying escalated one night when we made a stop for hamburgers after the "run".
"HOTCAKES TO GO!"
Jakes was an all night diner at the upper end of Athens' State Street and both locals and college kids patronized it. After a particularly late evening at The Elms, about a dozen of us decided we needed food before bed and arrived in three cars. Sitting at the counter, brother Doug Johnson saw "Jakes old fashioned Griddle Cakes" on the menu and joked he wanted to get some, "to go". We all roared and then the outlandish idea seemed to make sense in our enlightened condition, so everybody got an order "to go".
Sobered by the coffee and hamburgers, we all left with pancake stuffed pockets and began to wonder what to do with them. Touring the campus, we decided to leave the draped over the campus entrance like Salvador Dali's fluid clocks. The next day, the campus paper carried the story asking where the pancakes came from. That was all the incentive we needed to repeat the performance and it got press, too. One night after winning a huge basketball game, the varsity coach's front porch got them and it soon became a symbol of something good. After coming back following our serenade of a sorority house (commemorating a "pinning") and spreading the cakes all over the porch of the honoree, the word leaked out who was doing it. Soon, the campus knew: pancakes on your doorstep meant the Tri-Gams had blessed you!
Pancake "runs" became a regular event and we were quite famous for them. Nobody ever filed a complaint but we did hear of housemothers at sororities and women's dorms grumbling about the cleanup.
In 1967 I visited the chapter on mother's day weekend as an alum. During an after hours party with the chapter I told the story and that night the tradition was revived, at least temporarily. Running across campus with the new gang spreading hotcakes everywhere, I suddenly sobered enough to realize, now at age 37, I could be guilty of "contributing to the delinquency of minors" and figured I'd better take a lower profile. I did go back to my room in the "annex" with a smile on my face.
THE MEN'S INDEPENDENT ASSOCIATION ALLIES?
Another extra-curricular activity was the theatre movie on campus, three nights a week (Wednesday, Friday Saturday). Ironically, the Men's Independent Association (MIA) sponsored the event but a number of us Tri-Gam fraternity guys had been paid ushers and we kept getting hired for the ticket taking jobs. It was a cushy job: we got paid a flat sum, about triple minimum wage for an hour, only worked 45 minutes and got two free tickets to the movie! So those of us with girl friends got cheap dates a couple of nights a week. At one point we comprised all the ticket takers and even took the proceeds back to the house for counting. Yes, we were not unfriendly to the MIA and the long-standing relationship was well known all around campus.
NEXT: THE INSPIRATION