Fifty Years and Counting: The Beta Alpha Chapter KA Pledge Class of 1963 and Homecoming 2013

In late 2012, Brother Dennis R. Hanlon (“Denny” or “Rick,” take your pick) with help from Brother Ted Weise, began contacting members of his 1963 Kappa Alpha pledge class from the Beta Alpha Chapter in Rolla. Some members had kept in touch with one another over the years, others had not been in communication for nearly five decades. Denny’s goal was ambitious, and he pursued it tenaciously. He sought nothing less than to unite all the available members of the class on its 50th anniversary, the occasion being Homecoming weekend at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in October 2013. Amazingly, he managed to locate all members of the pledge class, finding some in a determined effort that continued even after several brothers who had tried to help him in the search had long given up hope. His pitch to all he contacted was heartfelt and convincing: everyone would have a grand time, joining up and catching up. Some brothers had commitments they couldn’t cancel; for some, health issues prevented them from attending. Still, the result of Denny’s labor was nothing short of incredible. Last October, fourteen of the eighteen pledge brothers made the trip to Rolla from all over the country. Among them were Jerry Sellers, pledge class president, and Dave Krutsinger, both of whom were suffering from debilitating illnesses but able to make the trip.

For those who had not enjoyed Rolla’s charms for a few decades, many of the old landmarks were there, but many more sights and names had changed. Gone was the Carney Manor Inn and Restaurant that had greeted brothers coming into town via Highway 63. As for those arriving from the west or east on Interstate 44—better known as Route 66 back in the day—instead of finding an orderly strip of motels, restaurants (remember Zenos?), and gas stations, they encountered a maze of new businesses and overpasses, more than enough to require some time to get one’s bearings. The 15-cent hamburger stand, Griffs, was nowhere to be found (Rolla didn’t sport the Golden Arches back then), and the greasy spoon pizza joint that sustained many brothers on a Saturday night had also vanished. The KA house, of course, was where it had always been, but instead of being isolated and surrounded by woods and highway, it was now a part of what had become fraternity row. Even so, its columns and grandeur still stirred an emotional response.

Friday afternoon, the pledge brothers and other alumni occasionally ran into each other, especially at the hotel where most were staying. Recognition on sight was the general rule, although some encounters elicited quick reintroductions. The first scheduled get together was that night at the Schoolhouse Grill and Varsity Lounge (another new site), where cocktail hour ran on for several, and the brothers and spouses/significant others in attendance worked the room, getting reacquainted, telling stories of the “good ole’ days” and since, asking questions about current concerns, and, in general, having a grand time. The numbers far exceeded what had been expected, but having to open up another room and bring in additional chairs only allowed more time for the festivities. Finally, at some point between 10 and 11, the crowd began to thin out, some folks anticipating a good night’s sleep, others eager to continue conversing.

Saturday morning opened with the alumni business meeting in the KA Chapter Room. The principal topic here was the House Renovation Project, presented by Brothers Brinkmann and Hennessey, for while the red brick and white columns of the house are as beautiful as ever, time has dictated some extensive changes. The specifics of the project were put forward, with an estimate that the work would be finished before Homecoming this year. In uniting the 1963 pledge class, Denny had this undertaking very much in mind. As he wrote on the itinerary sheet for the weekend, “It is desired that our pledge class be the first pledge class to donate for the house redevelopment plan.” His appeal was answered, as the Pledge Class of 1963 promised over $100,000 in donations.

When the meeting concluded, there was lunch in the house, then an afternoon at Jim Sowers’ and Ed Schmidt’s farm, where beer and soda, hot dogs and hamburgers, and more conversation flowed freely. This casual outing was then followed that evening by the only formal occasion of the weekend, the KA banquet, hosted by the Grand Master of Ceremonies, dedicated BA supporter, and our 1963 Rush Chairman, Ed Schmidt. After a tasty dinner, the house renovation project was discussed for a much larger audience than that morning, an auction was held of several items including some outlandish neckties that were most likely made to be seen not worn, and a host of scholarships for the active brothers were announced. Closing out the evening was a spirited performance by the KA Singers, a folk group that, in the early to mid-sixties, had played many gigs in the Rolla area and appeared on a statewide CBS-sponsored TV talent show. Original members David John and Gary Turner were joined by Denny on guitar and another ’63 pledge class member, Larry Yates, on banjo and guitar. A short set included such standards as If I Had a Hammer, The MTA, Stay Awhile, and I’m Goin’ Home. The performance ended with all in attendance joining in on Dixie. Afterwards, there were more photos taken, more stories told, and more liquids consumed.

Sunday morning, with most alumni packed for their trips home, there was a final get together, a breakfast at the Schoolhouse Grill. Last minute talk was suffused with promises to stay in touch, to come back next October, and to cherish our memories of Kappa Alpha. As the assemblage broke up, those 1963 pledge class members took with them a special item: a Memory Book put together by Denny and Jerry Sellers’ wife, Maura, and full of photographs and a write-up about the pledge class, then and now. It was a wonderful and productive weekend. As Denny later wrote, the “pledge class of ’64 will have their hands full topping this next year and we hope they do.” – Brother Larry Yates