Driving into scenic oglebay park near wheeling, west virginia, I’m thinking how remarkable it is that almost 40 years since we graduated, 35 Marietta College alumni have put aside real life schedules to spend a long weekend together. This complex-to-plan annual event started roughly 30 years ago with a small group of Cleveland-area grads who suffered through Browns games together.
Most of this group graduated between 1976 and 1982. All of the reunion attendees were Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity members when that house was a key part of the campus. Think of our little band of brothers as a throwback to the heart of the politically incorrect years on college campuses. We did not need safe spaces to retreat to; we preferred the library steps or the legendary downtown hangouts like the Time Out.
My most ingrained memories of Marietta are the damp mornings when the fog rolled in off the river, the musty basement of Andrews Hall where we learned broadcasting, the professors who challenged us in ways that never happened in high school, and the absolutely perfect moment on a Friday afternoon when the weekend possibilities seemed endless. But above all else I remember the friends I’m about to see.
I finished a business trip in Washington and spent four hours driving here. As I put the rental car on cruise control and drifted through quaint West Virginia towns, I’ve had ample time to listen to The Michael Stanley Band and other groups that were the blaring soundtrack of Lambda Chi life. The old music brings back the smell of stale draft beer in The Pit, and the sound of local bands jammed into fraternity living rooms.
Bruce Kinney ’79, Bill Kingzett ’79 and Bill Corwin ’78 have been the keepers of the flame for all the reunions. They have bought supplies, planned menus, made deposits, rented cabins, arranged golf games, as well as created a T-shirt and soundtrack for each year. It is a staggering amount of work to organize all this, but it is work that has held our little group together.
I’ve never made time to get to the reunion. For years I just passed, telling Bruce that it didn’t fit with babies or business travel or family events, but every year I heard from the soft spoken steel company executive saying it was time for me to come back. But now I’ve done that, and I’m slightly nervous about seeing the men I shared my bad haircut, bell-bottom years with.
When I step into the state park cabin, the first thing I notice is the pictures — thousands of them that have been slowly assembled over the years. They are blown up photos from our Marietta days that show us all as happy, laughing, thin young men with full heads of hair. The women we dated, or wanted to date, all look beautiful and young and captivating. It’s a magical look back in time to the cobblestone streets of the Marietta campus. Each picture has a story behind it, and as the cold beer is opened, one story rolls in to another, and we all drift back to the vivid tapestry of our youth.
The room is a cross section of American demographics. There are divorces, second marriages, there are two men who have lived through the loss of a child, and there are guys few would have expected to do as well in business as they did. There are knee and hip replacements to be discussed and old songs to be turned up loud. Some have grandchildren and some still have kids in high school. There are a few already retired. There are also toasts to the friends who passed too soon.
But the single thing that unifies all of us is the genuine appreciation for what Marietta College and the Lambda Chi house gave us. I remember the classes at Marietta where patient professors taught us to ask the right questions, but just as important were the lessons we learned about life and friends, about pain and joy, about the magic of a fall afternoon when large stereo speakers were dragged out into the warm sun. Looking around the cabin, I understand with the harsh clarity of age, that all of those lessons were learned with these friends.
After much laughter and only slightly embellished stories, Thursday afternoon turns into Sunday morning in the blink of an eye. Sunday dawns as a stunning fall day as I point the rental car toward the Pittsburgh airport and back to the real world. I fumble to plug my iPhone in to the small car audio system to listen to Bruce Springsteen as I think about my son who, only four weeks earlier, became a freshman in college. He has joined a fraternity at a university far larger than Marietta. My hope for him is simply that he has college and fraternity friends he still wants to see when he is my age, and that he will feel the love for his school that I still feel for the little campus nestled against the Ohio River.
I also hope he has friends from the glory years who keep the flame in the lamp burning, and relentlessly put in perspective the simple things that really matter in an angry world.
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Mail: Editor, Marietta Magazine
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