270,000 and Counting

August 5, 2009

New Orleans is sweltering in August, overheated and humid.  But we were college guys on summer break just a couple of weeks before our senior year.  And we’d come to Louisiana’s party city to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and libations of the French Quarter – and also to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of our beloved college fraternity.

It was August of 1984, and President Ronald Reagan (still in his first term) had just joked during a microphone check before a radio address that he had signed legislation to outlaw Russia forever and that “we begin bombing in five minutes.”  Three months later he would carry the electoral votes of 49 states to beat Walter Mondale and win a second term.   Apple introduced its first MAC in 1984, in the era before e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or even the ubiquitous cell phone (which was first introduced that year and sold for $4,000.)  Our fraternity house at Butler University had payphones and a few of us actually owned corded telephones – a novelty with the recent breakup of the Bell System.

We’d come together at the historic Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans (only recently re-opened in 2009 as the Roosevelt Hotel with a $145 million renovation,  after damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina) to mark the founding of Lambda Chi Alpha, better known to some as the “Lamb Chops.”  Hundreds of undergraduates converged on New Orleans, some acting as official delegates of more than 200 chapters from universities throughout the U.S. and Canada.DSC_0183

Lambda Chi Alpha had inauspicious beginnings, with founder Warren Cole visiting or writing to more than 100 colleges and universities before finally installing a functioning chapter.  In the beginning, the new social men’s fraternity was almost a joke created to poke fun at the serious sounding Greek letter societies.  Lambda Chi Alpha once meant nothing more than “Little College Asses,” a sobriquet that was quickly ditched when the movement took hold.  That first chapter was installed in 1909, the same year that the U.S. military ordered its first airplane (from the Wright brothers) and the year that Pearl Harbor opened as a base and the first auto and motorcycle racing events were held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A small local society at Butler in Indianapolis became Lambda Chi Alpha’s 25th chapter in December 1915.  The International Fraternity has now initiated more than 270,000 men as members, with more than 1,600 coming from Butler – and most Butler Lambda Chi’s living in our stately fraternity house on Sunset Avenue in Indianapolis.

4721 Sunset at Centennial

Those who have never lived experienced Greek life are usually somewhat mystified by the appeal.  Why would anyone want to live with 60 other guys and all of the horseplay and problems that inevitably creates?  Isn’t a fraternity nothing more than a drinking society?  Aren’t those things as antique as visiting hours at the women’s dormitory?  Everybody knows it’s nothing more than “Animal House” – so how could you possibly endorse something as backwards and Neanderthal as a college fraternity?

I think those critics and their protestations  ring hollow.  Don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it!

They’ve obviously never known the deep bonds of friendship and love that exist with a group that is both wildly diverse and at the same time unified in mission.  Even with the undergraduates who are now returning to campus, we alumni share experiences of respect, understanding, teaching, guidance, and lifelong friendship.  We’ve lived together under the same roof, dealing with the same problems.  We’ve learned to listen to diverging opinions and carefully weigh our options.  We’ve shared in the joys of victory (sometimes, admittedly, at ridiculous campus competitions) and turned inward when a brother is hurting or scared.  We’ve joined hands to help end hunger, raise money for cancer research, and have helped to teach hundreds of men how to grow up – accept responsibility – and lead others.

Butler Brothers at the Centennial

Butler Brothers at the Centennial

In my own years as a Chapter Adviser and volunteer member of the House Corporation that oversees the upkeep of the Sunset Avenue house, I’ve been energized by the enthusiasm and limitless possibilities that our undergraduate brothers exude.  These are the men who will soon grow up to be husbands, fathers, businessmen, and leaders.

Lambda Chi Alpha is stronger than ever, with a solid membership base in changing times.

This past week, more than 850 undergraduates and alumni again gathered to celebrate an anniversary – and this time our Butler chapter and the university campus served as host.  We acknowledged the amazing foresight of our founders, noting the significant milestones as the fraternity adapted to new challenges.

The Old Ones:  Randy, Bryan, Arno, Swaff, Wild Bill

The Old Ones: Randy, Bryan, Arno, Swaff, Wild Bill

With my brothers from the 1980’s, we gathered together to mark the Centennial – and also to tell stories about that August weekend 25 years ago in New Orleans.  Our children are now entering high school, and some are already heading off to the leafy campus surrounded by fraternity and sorority houses.

The words of the fraternity creed echoed throughout Clowes Memorial Hall as we marked our one hundredth birthday:
“We believe in Lambda Chi Alpha, and its traditions, principles, and ideals. The crescent is our symbol — pure, high, and ever growing; and the cross is our guide — denoting service, sacrifice, and even suffering and humiliation before the world, bravely endured if need be, in following that ideal.  May we have faith in Lambda Chi Alpha and passion for its welfare.  May we have hope for the future of Lambda Chi Alpha and strength to fight for its teachings.  May we have pure hearts, that we may approach the ideal of perfect brotherly love.”

Magic Carpet Ride mosh pit

Magic Carpet Ride mosh pit

I believe in fraternity.  I believe in Lambda Chi Alpha, and its symbols that represent growth, purity, sacrifice, and service.  I believe in celebrating the things that hold us together, not drive us apart.

One hundred years ago, a few college kids saw the opportunity to work together and make a difference in this world.

I’m grateful for that dream, and honored to be part of how that dream became reality.

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3 Responses to “270,000 and Counting”

  1. Bill Evans Says:

    Thanks Dave — a wonderful tribute! Great to reconnect in person!
    “Wild Bill” Evans AA 1048

  2. Bryan Klemm AA1089 Says:

    NICE!!!!

  3. Luther T. Garcia Says:

    a Housing Rhino? I remember coining the phrase in 81.


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