In 1965, Drexel was still an Institute of Technology, most of the students were commuters and there were no male dormitories. Kelly Hall, the first men’s dorm, opened in the late 1960s.
Drexel allowed fraternities to provide housing for freshman. There were about 20 freshmen in the house in 1965 and most, along with a strong commuter group, formed a Pledge Class of approximately 40, with about 25 eventually entering as the Spring Class of 1966. Interest in fraternities was on the upswing and it was common for the pledge classes in the mid-to-late ‘60s to have over 60 pledges, most of whom were initiated. It was also common to have a second spring class, and even a fall class, for jocks and others on co-op assignments. In 1969, the number of brothers peaked at over 120.
When Drexel Institute became Drexel University in 1969, the number of fraternities settled in at 12 where it remained for many years. Sigma Pi would be the most prominent of these fraternities throughout the period, continually distinguishing itself with leadership in the Drexel community, excellence in sports, and the best social activities on and off campus.
During these challenging times, our internal success as a brotherhood as well as at Drexel was due, in large part, to the quality of the leadership that we elected to serve us. We really did have a lot of “sage” men, including all those below who served as Sage during this period.
Sigma Pi’s in Drexel Student Government
Many brothers including such luminaries such as Rich Greenawalt, Alan MacDonald, Tom Girton, Steve Lalka and Dave Grudem, were also active as Class Officers and in Drexel Student Government. They were elected by their classmates to help formulate student policy and shape the future of Drexel University. Al Calabria, Wayne Outten, Tom Gottshall, Tom Sommers and Bill Schleyer followed in their footsteps shortly after.
This leadership and the contacts they maintained with Drexel administration proved key to keeping Sigma Pi on campus during repeated trouble with Drexel during the early 1970s. It also helped that Drexel was much more forgiving of bad fraternity behavior in the 1970s than in later years, with generally pro-fraternity Dean of Men including Dean Eichhorn and Dean Smith.
Pledge Pranks & Other Bad Behavior
Every Sigma Pi era has its famous incidents of fraternity bad behavior and we are no exception. Here a few of the incidents that made relations with Drexel an ongoing challenge:
· The 1971 Pledge Class became infamous for stealing the Sara Van Rensselaer portrait out of the Girl’s Dorm.
· After losing the 1971 volleyball championship game, several drunken Sigma Pi’s invaded the Drexel Health Center late at night to visit Brother Robert Bucco. He was not near as sick as the Health Center staff who were forcibly prevented from calling the police.
· While living at Kelly Hall in the summer of 1971 during the house reconstruction, several Brothers decided to hold a Track & Field meet in the first-floor hallway including bowling, shot putting and other assorted events. Damage was significant and Drexel was not amused.
· Beer Bus trips were regular events on the Sigma Pi social schedule, usually to Drexel football away games. For three consecutive years from 1970-72, drunken inappropriate behavior by Sigma Pi’s led to arrests and a trip to the Dean’s office for the unlucky Sage.
· Bad behavior reached its peak when the legendary Rammers tore down the ceiling of the fraternity house basement on a drunken Saturday night in the spring of 1971, several weeks before it was scheduled to be replaced during house renovations. Many brothers were not amused.
· One pledge prank that went undetected by Drexel was the famous nude picture of the 1972 Pledge Class taken at night on the Drexel Court Steps.
Sigma Pi’s were always strong in athletics, with brothers on most Drexel teams including football, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling and crew. When track and ice hockey teams were added, brothers were also members of those teams. In Inter-fraternity (IF) competition, we were always good but the Sigma Pi dynasty really started on November 4, 1967. On a sunny Homecoming Sunday in front of over 250 alumni of the “Fraters” from TKE, who were riding a 32-game winning streak, our Football team coached by Worthy Sanders shut TKE down, 4-0 (that’s right… 4-0!). From that point on, we ruled! In fact we redefined “ruling”. Football, softball and ping pong were always ours. Softball stars Gary Kemp, Pete Margarita and Larry McDorman were also undefeated for years in ping pong. We also were very strong in basketball, volleyball, tennis and the annual Olympiad. We first won the IF Cup in the winter of 1968 and repeated in 1969!
TKE stole the Cup from us in 1970 by getting us suspended for some minor indiscretion. After this brief respite and buoyed by a very strong future graduating Class of 1973, we took the Cup back in 1971, thereby retiring our first Cup.
Sigma Pi was buoyed by a dominant football team coached for 5 years by PJ Charlton, who retired with a record of 29-4, with two IF championships and falling one missed assignment and 3 points short of winning 28 games in a row.
The sustaining moment in “continuing the dynasty” was on a late snowy afternoon during Finals week of December 1968 when, from the porch of the Pi-House, we took on and successfully defended the House against the entire resident freshmen class in a classic snowball fight. The unfortunate loss of a couple of panes of our beautiful stained glass windows was worth the cost, since we won the hearts of the freshmen class and had our pick of the litter, eventually adding over 50 brothers to the eventual graduating Class of 1973.
Just as the class of 1973 rejuvenated the fraternity during the early 1970s, the 1976 class which pledged in 1972 continued the Sigma Pi sports domination. Although Sigma Pi lost the 1972 Cup by a tie breaker to Delta Sig, we never lost the Cup again for the remainder of the decade, winning 8 years out of 10 in the 1970s. In 1972-73 we peaked, going undefeated in volleyball. football, basketball, softball and ping pong.
Social functions in 1965 consisted of a Mixer with a keg on Friday nights, and a theme party with 2 or 3 kegs on Saturday nights. Starlight Ball was a big affair, usually held in the fall and off-campus, as was Spring Weekend with the Orchid Ball in May. Both functions were firsts in the Drexel fraternity community. Professional acts of that era appearing at Starlight Ball included Lee Andrews and The Hearts, and The Soul Survivors.
Believe it or not, participative music was also a big part of our well-rounded social life in the mid ‘60s. One of Drexel’s traditions was Kano, a fraternity singing competition which Sigma Pi always participated. The extent of PJ’s participation was to go to Cavanaugh’s and have 20 seats ready when they were finished practicing. We also reveled in singing along with Bob Carpenter (later of national renown with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) to “Sigma Pi Honeybunch...” in the Lincoln Room during or after Friday night Mixers in ’65 to ’67.
By the early 1970s, mid-week parties became popular, especially the Sigma Pi signature “Hoosegows” where the number of kegs increased exponentially. Weekend parties at the house also got much bigger, but actually became money makers when Brother David “Dirt” Beyel introduced the “Pay Bar”. Party nights out of the house moved from the Bull and Barrel to The Jailhouse, which became a Sigma Pi hangout for another decade before its destruction.
Spring Weekend was another Drexel fraternity tradition initiated by Sigma Pi. We can still remember several Spring Weekends at White Beauty View in the Poconos, and others at Lake Wallenpaupack. One of the highlights was the crowning of the Sigma Pi Sweetheart during the “Orchid Ball” on Saturday night. Her portrait would be placed on the mantel of the fireplace in the living room for the next year.
The Orchid Ball was a formal affair with brothers in tuxedos and dates in gowns. Towards the end of the 60’s, formal wear gave way to brothers in shorts, with black tape on the sides for the formal look.
In the 1960s, breakfast and dinner, for many years prepared by Mrs. Sara Walker, were served Monday-Friday. Jacket and tie were required for dinner although by 1970 casual attire had emerged. A series of unusual cooks followed, including Fred, Rick the Dick, and Philly John who was best known for his elusive search for that one soda in the beer machine.
Although consideration was given to building a new house, it was decided to renovate the existing house at 210 N. 34th Street in 1971. The brothers moved into Kelly Hall for the summer term during the construction. A fire occurred on the third floor North side during the renovations, which delayed construction completion until the end of the fall term of 1971.
The renovations primarily affected the first floor, although bathrooms and other infrastructure were also upgraded. Until 1971, the first floor north side consisted of the Living Room, Mail Room with telephone, Green Room (the place to be in the late ‘60s – watching Neil Armstrong step on the Moon and then hoping that our numbers wouldn’t come up in the draft lottery), Pantry and Kitchen. Access to the upper floors was from the main staircase in the Living Room, and a staircase from the Green Room. Another telephone was located in a room below the main staircase. The south side had the Dining Room, Lincoln Room, a Ladies Room, and Breakfast Room. A staircase from the breakfast room led to the Brotherhood Room in the basement, which contained the world’s first commercial beer machine. An old soda machine was converted to dispense beer cans (see Philly John comment above). The main access to the basement was via a staircase alongside the Dining Room. Another staircase to the basement was located off of the Kitchen.
After the renovations, the Kitchen was relocated to the south side of the house, and the Dining Room was expanded. The Lincoln Room, Ladies Room, and basement staircase were removed. The Mail Room and the Green Room Stairs became the Ladies Room. A bedroom replaced the old Pantry and Kitchen. A new staircase to the basement was installed below the main staircase. The old Brotherhood Room became another bedroom.
Although the attic was always the primary scene for Hell Night, some brothers actually lived in parts of the attic when the house was crowded (peaking at about 60 brothers around 1972), and it provided access to the roof for sunbathing and other activities.
Our neighbors on North 34th Street were Theta Chi (at times Beta Nu) at 216, Delta Sig at 214 and The PanHell House right next to us at 212. (They really knew the meaning of “There’s a Moon out tonight”.) We really were tight with our Beta-Theta brothers at Theta Chi (don’t tell them but we have the same secret handshake) and were united against the Delta Sig Ding-Dongs.
An unusually large number of 1970s Sigma Pi graduates settled in the Philadelphia area after graduation and still live there today. Lifelong friendships were maintained over the years with softball and volleyball teams, and with annual social events such as Dirt’s Opening Day (30th Annual in 2004) and The Hogs Open (25th Annual in 2004). Two spectacular reunions were held at The Hog Rock Café in 2000 and 2002. These events along with historic Sigma Pi pictures are chronicled on Hog Rock Café at www.hogrockcafe2.com.
Despite the lifelong memories created here, the brotherhood of this 1965-1975 timeframe also endured many sad moments as well, as an unusual number of our brothers and pledges left for the Isle of Thera well ahead of their time, as a result of sickness and tragic non-school-related accidents, including Tim Hall (Class of 1969), John Kozakowski (‘70), Karl Goldstrohm (‘70), Bob Davidson (‘71), Rod Hilbert (’71)who went down with Pan Am flight 103, Gordy Calloway (‘73), Joe McClain (‘73), Denny Murray (’73) and Bob Taney (pledged in ‘69). They were and are all missed.
The intent of this “History” is to help record the history of Beta Theta Sigma Pi. Tom Snyder, a founding brother, started the effort, and we have attempted to continue his work. We could have gone on for a long time and didn’t mean to slight anyone. When we’re done with this I’m sure we’ll remember several other people and events which we absolutely should have included. We’re sorry. We encourage others to provide their comments, whether it is to add or to correct our record.
Memories of Sigma Pi: 1965-1975 was first
published on betatheta.com
in November 2003.