Bend Reunion, 1996

In 1967 Sigma Alpha Epsilon inducted San Fernando Valley State College's preeminent local fraternity, Pi Kappa Tau, into the family of purple and gold. This is a story about a few of the men who were the architects of that incorporation. Guys who threw toga parties, built homecoming floats, staggered against the shock of a presidential assassination, and drank from a cup of something they called Brotherhood. They still do.

The news that Richard Krieger had begun chemotherapy treatments flashed across three States and hit Stuart Olster like a bucket of you-know-what. It didn't take an LL.B. to know we were getting the equivalent of a two-minute warning. The time for stiff upper lips was over. Now was time for action.

Stuart hoped maybe a few of the guys could arrange or rearrange their schedules and "do a weekend." Surely it would provide some kind of emotional boost, even if only a handful of guys could make it. Most of us still lived within an hour or so of the campus (which, during the seventies was renamed "California State University, Northridge"). Bend, Oregon, where Krieger lived was only a couple of hours by plane from L.A. Stuart
started calling.

Deciding which weekend was a problem all by itself. Chemotherapy treatments produce a horribly debilitating initial reaction of profound nausea and weakness for several days, followed by gradual recovery until the still weakened body return to at least the appearance of "normal." A few days later the next treatment is given. So the timing of a visit had to be carefully chosen. The weekend of October 5th and 6th was picked.

On Friday night, October 4th, Connie Melton incorrectly guessed that he was the first to arrive when his plane landed in Portland at 6:52. In fact, Rick Grimes and Dr. Curt Ebbesmeyer had driven down from Seattle and were happily sampling the best of Oregon's microbreweries in one of the airport's pubs. Marv Kaplan, who lives in Portland and handled much of the transportation details had been looking for the happy samplers when he found Connie. Soon Gerry Adams arrived on a flight from Burbank, and the three headed over to where a gang was about to come in on the 8:05 flight from LAX.

Bob Buch, Sam Wenguer, Jeff Pollard and Jim York made their way through the plane's passageway with grins already in place. Don Stokes, Stuart, Bob Fowlie, Dave Smith and Bob Kuehn followed. Kuehn had a videocam that stayed stuck in his face the whole weekend and subsequently provided all of us with a fabulous set of "living minutes."

The reunion had begun: smack-dab in the middle of the Portland airport. Rick and Curt walked in right on time and smilefully joined the hugathon. Guys continued to deplane: Dave Peterson, Judge Bob Axel, Richard Sparks, Dr. Jeff Bordofsky, Jeff Matz (from Phoenix), Jim Anselmino, and finally Pete Tomaryn. Other travelers and their companions had to wait for an opening to slip through our blockade, but the kindly Oregonians didn't complain. Twenty-one so far, and there would be more.

Getting a group that large (and that happy) out of the airport and launched on a three-hour drive to Bend was about the equivalent of a three stooges movie times four! At 1:00 A.M. two cars and three vans rolled into the coffee shop parking lot where Krieger and Dick Eisman (who lives in Bend also and provided MAJOR leadership as co-host extraordinaire) had been waiting since 10:30. Fifty hi-howaya's and hugs later we headed for the four "cabins" Rick had rented for us. As it turned out, they were, in fact, 3000 square foot, six bedroom estates. (But who's counting.)

John Ellsworth (from Reno) and Dave McBee (from Los Osos) were there. I don't know how or when they arrived. Howard Hayes, who had driven up earlier from the central coast with Rick Roberts, woke up to greet the still-smiling travelers. Rick did not. An omission he would pay for the next morning. And the grins and conversations just went on and on and on, until finally, at about three thirty in the morning, the last five ¾ all Pledge Brothers from Fall '63 ¾ called it quits, found a bed, and crashed.

Saturday began with coffee, rolls, Jacuzzis for a few (who of course were accused of doing so in lieu of taking a shower,) and jokes. In fact, the whole day was a world-class jokefest. Every one was funnier than the last, and every one reminded someone of two more. Lawyers got the worst of it, of course. With seven attorneys in attendance, how could they not? Perhaps the three best ¾- and certainly my favorites ¾- were the ones that ended: "And all these years you've been hittin' from the red tees?!" "You mean you missed a fucking six inch putt?!" And "OK. But don't hit me
quite so hard."

Mike Hirsch drove in from Portland. Rick Roberts finally got out of bed. After food, the first item on the agenda was to visit Krieger's and Eisman's houses. Both belong in "lifestyles of the rich and famous." Then back into town for a couple of games of bowling, where no one broke 200 but Sam came the closest. Buddy Bergquist from Dana Point drove up, became attendee number twenty-nine, and got the usual mugging by hugging.

By then it was "cocktail hour" so we moseyed over to one of those country-western-sports bars, complete with mechanical bull. Here we disproved the old axiom "once a fratter, always a fratter" by collectively ignoring what would have been ¾-30-something years ago¾ an irresistible attraction and today would have put 95% of us into a morphine-drip-coma and full-body-traction. Thank God for "older and wiser."

About two hours and four hundred jokes later we drove back to town for dinner. (It was OK¾ these days we all nurse about one beer per hour.) There we topped out when Dr. George (our-Brother-the-gynecologist) Weghorst finally appeared, bringing us to an even thirty. After the usual hugfest, we consumed enough gourmet Chinese food to feed most of the proverbial starving children in China.

Dessert was two and a half hours of incomprehensibly delicious "do-ya-remember-the-time-that..." stories. And more smiling, laughing, and shedding of joy-inspired tears than most of us had produced in at least two, and perhaps three decades combined! Events that were funny in the early sixties had aged to become pure gut-busters in their retelling three decades later. Priceless tales of long forgotten adventures, relationships, mis-adventures, and of course dozens of infamous one-liners were resurrected to howls of laughter and tears of joy. Every anecdote added mortar to the recementing of a brotherhood that had aged a third of a century in time and our heads, and minute by minute was being reborn as a living force in our hearts.

Sunday morning we gathered in a beautiful, private dining room for brunch, photos, testimonials about the thrill it had been to reconnect, and resolutions to get together in the future. We concluded with a beautiful meditation that collected and focused all the loving, healing energy that thirty minds could muster on the reason we were there: Brother Richard Krieger and what we absolutely knew was his soon-to-be-in-remission cancer.

It may not be possible to collect and arrange a group of words so that anyone who wasn't there could understand the love and joy that was rekindled over those 48 hours. It was, and is, I suppose, that inexplicably magical stuff that has sustained the fraternity system as a treasured experience for thousands of men over two hundred years. We may not be able to explain it, but "we like it, we love it," and like the song (almost) says, "we've already made plans to get some more of it!" The "1997 Fraternity Meeting" will be at Granlibakken in Lake Tahoe, May 16-18.

Krieger has been assigned the same job that he made famous 35 years ago: "Social Chairman." In those days every one of us used "Brotherhood for Life" as an enticement during rush and a motto during pledging. At Bend, Oregon, in 1996, "Brotherhood for Life" stopped being a slogan and became an absolute. Stuart summed it up in a format he was famous for, long ago:

The 30/30 Crew slipped into town:
Thirty men strong; thirty years long.
Word had it that the stay of execution
Of one of them had been withdrawn.

This was solemn business for the group,
Which had cut its teeth on Marlboro boxes
And similar folly, and which discovered brotherhood"
When having good times was its job.

But the condemned one refused to be somber
And encouraged the rest to just play
And the laughter resounded the forest
As the decades fell gently away.

Could any of them have imagined
That the dark cloud which hung over Bend
Would give way to magnificent sunshine
In the spirits of those thirty men.

Conrad Melton (S'62)