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Delaware’s 50 years on campus

Lambda Chi Alpha chapter 50th Reunion held in Clayton HAll on Dec. 5, 2015

Lambda Chi Alpha chapter 50th Reunion held in Clayton HAll on Dec. 5, 2015

Article by Eric Ruth, photos by Lane McLaughlin.

They arrived by car and by plane, from as far away as Arizona and Nevada. They came filled with unique memories – from different times and distinct eras, about different people and different lives.

But each man left Newark just as they came: As brothers, for all time.

The alumni of Lambda Chi Alpha’s Lambda Beta chapter descended on Laird Campus earlier this month to celebrate what is truly a landmark for the University of Delaware, and especially for the fraternities it hosts. For 50 years now, ever since Dec. 4, 1965, Lambda Chi has been part of UD’s fraternity system, with generations of brothers living at its vintage West Main Street house.

That makes it the oldest continuously operating fraternity on campus, and currently among the most academically successful. But its true essence and true distinction is more than a number, its thousand-plus brothers say. It lies in the years of philanthropy they have produced, and in the decades of support they have provided to one another, on campus and off.

It’s a distinction that’s sometimes demonstrated in actions – like the decision by the national fraternity to abolish pledging and embrace an anti-hazing culture in 1972, years before such moves became routine. And it’s a character shown in the fact that 13 of the 19 founding brothers who started Lambda Chi here five decades ago attended the Dec. 5 reunion.

That sense of commitment and loyalty is clear in the emotions of Brian Miller, a 1993 alumnus, who was one of 381 brothers who attended the event at Clayton Hall. “It’s about lifelong friendships,” he says as his brothers begin to arrive before the reunion gets under way. “I’ll talk to people I haven’t seen in 20 years, and it will be like I never left.”

Twenty-plus years after Miller graduated, those notions are still common sentiments among the current crop of “Lambda Betas.”

“Someone’s always got your back,” says senior Erik Elsasser, an engineering major in the Class of 2018. “You always have someone to talk to. It’s all about brotherhood. Wherever life takes you, you have someone back home.”

At the December reunion, old photos and archival material – the deed to the 106-year-old Main Street House, newspaper clippings on the fraternity’s birth – were prime points of interest as the brothers mingled before dinner and speeches. Occasionally, from within the crowd, a shout of recognition would herald another mini-reunion of brothers.

“This gentleman and I ended up being roommates,” a beaming Rick Gross, a 1982 alumnus, says as he is reunited with Ed Westlake, Class of 1979. “For long stretches of time, we don’t get together, but when we do …”

Westlake finishes his friend’s thought: “It’s like starting up the conversation like we just saw each other yesterday. That kind of bond has not wavered over 50 years, and hopefully, we can keep that up over the generations.”

The bonds are especially strong because of the University of Delaware’s own character, said Rich Goodwyn, a 1979 alumnus, who senses that a special connection exists between all UD grads – not just fraternity brothers – because of the school’s special ability to inspire deep and enduring emotional ties.

“UD gave me a great education,” said the 30-year naval aviation veteran. “Wherever I went in the military, all over the world, I met Blue Hens.”

“The University of Delaware has a very good reputation wherever you go in the country, business-wise,” said Don Dolan, a 1980 alumnus. “We tend to take it for granted.”

At UD, Lambda Chi stands as a leader and a survivor in a system that has seen its share of turmoil, at UD and at schools nationwide. The UD Lambda chapter was founded at a time when the notion of fraternities was falling from cultural favor as the ’60s counterculture gained momentum.

Today, the fraternity boasts the fourth-highest Chapter Assessment Program score of any fraternity or sorority on campus, and its average grade point average of 3.18 in spring 2015 was tops among the 18-member Interfraternity Council.

Lambdas say their experiences at UD make it easy – and even imperative – to counter the common belief that fraternities prefer to focus more on fun than philanthropy.

“People have this negative view of frats,” said senior Brendan Horne. “But they don’t know that this year, we raised 80,000 pounds of food for the community.”

For years, the chapter’s philanthropic efforts have focused on collecting food for the needy, in partnership with Feeding America and the Food Bank of Delaware.

There was a time when things weren’t so strong, brothers acknowledge. At one point, membership had dwindled to 12, and finances were precarious. The alumni network rallied to help bring it back, and while the future of the chapter seems well-supported by its long legacy, brothers at the reunion noted that the old house is in dire need of modernization.

“I think we can have a modern-day, 21st century house,” event organizer Lyman Chen, Class of 1993, tells the crowd.

“If we can do this,” Chen concludes, gesturing at the 381 gathered brothers, “we can do that!” (Via UDaily)

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