What I Remember: Lambda Chi Alpha Social Probation
By William H. McEwan (’65)
I graduated from Gettysburg College in 1965. While a student, I was a fervent Greek, a member of Lambda Chi Alpha. My memory is that over 85% of male students at that time joined one of 13 fraternities. I have two theories why this was so. First, the food in the cafeteria was horrible. So horrible that all fraternities on campus had kitchens, cooks, dining rooms and sit-down meals. We even invited dates and faculty members and their spouses to dine with us at formal mess on Tuesday evenings. Of course, we had a housemother, Mrs. B (Jane Burkett, RIP), to keep us in line and arrange bridge games. My second theory is the College offered absolutely no social life. It was up to the fraternities and sororities to arrange social engagements. The highlight of our year was Lambda Chi’s Open House where the entire campus was invited for adventures. In 1963, two of our brothers hired a helicopter and dropped thousands of marked ping pong balls on campus advertising our Open House that evening. That prank is indelibly marked in the minds of us Lambda Chi students who witnessed the event.
In those days, rush week occurred in September. Freshmen could sign up for “dates” among the various fraternities. This was a meet and greet function. Freshmen joining a fraternity were known as “pledges” (not “associates”) and they were charged with the responsibility of doing various household chores to the satisfaction of the ogre House Manager who ruled with an iron fist. Unlike the fraternities today, our house was immaculate in every respect. It had to be because our parents (the bill payers) showed up every Parents Day and swooned as we entertained them with live music and fraternity songs. Pledges who made grades first semester (2.0 or over) were eligible to become brothers in the second semester.
Lambda Chi had a tradition that had to go back to the founding of the chapter house in 1924 of taking freshmen rushees to “The Block” in Baltimore. At the time, the Block highlighted the misadventures of Blaze Starr and her fellow burlesque colleagues. In 1963, I was President of the fraternity and of course we enthusiastically brought a group of rushes to see Blaze in her glory. At one point, she yelled to us in the audience, “Hey fellows, what, is there a Boy Scout Convention in town?” One of our brothers, who went on to become a successful Episcopalian pastor, yelled back “No, we are celebrating making our first Holy Communion!”. X-Rated (mild in the day) fun was had by all or at least that is what the brothers thought.
On Monday morning I was summoned to the office of President Hansen. He always seemed to have a perpetual scowl and that morning he was also very red in the face. It seems like one of the rushees we took to the Block was offended by the event, and perhaps the offer of a sip of beer, and reported us to his father who was a Lutheran minister. That did it. Father called President Hansen who in turn called me onto the red carpet. He was livid and could not imagine upperclassmen ruining the virgin minds of freshman boys. Punishment was handed down by presidential decree – SOCIAL PROBATION for one semester beginning immediately. No girls in the House, no parties with alcohol served outside the House (then you could never drink alcohol in the fraternity houses), no social engagements, but OK to host Parents Weekend with notice of our punishment to parents. I had to go back to the House for lunch and announce our fate. The groans were heard by our neighbors on West Broadway. Then a few quick-thinking brothers devised the perfect solution. We would contact our chapter at Bucknell, report the news and invite ourselves to their house on social weekends. Contact was made, the invitation was accepted, and we all sighed in relief at the thought of being able to PARTY and not study, study, study. So, on a Friday we headed on up 15 North for about a two-hour drive, partied, consumed vast quantities of Hawaiian Punch and grain alcohol and drove back to Gettysburg all bleary-eyed on Sunday. Boy that Social Probation taught us naughty boys a thing or two. If anything, we learned to navigate Rt. 15 (then 2 lanes) without hurting others, or ourselves thank goodness.
Fraternities back then offered countless opportunities for stories worth telling today. More coming.
William H. McEwan, Class of 1965
Mr. McEwan spent several years in the USAF after graduation, then earned a law degree from the University of Colorado. He has practiced law since 1973. He is most proud that his granddaughter, Grace Verbrugge, is a class of 2022 student at Gettysburg.
Editor’s Note: This marks the second piece in a column series, called “What I Remember,” written by the alumni of Gettysburg College. Alumni interested in contributing to this column should feel free to reach out to Features Editor, Cam D’Amica, at email@example.com.