A blog or two ago I related the story of Beta Sigma Gamma. It was called “A Short History of a Small Beginning.” In talking with a few people who commented on the blog I was reminded that there was a little more to the story, at least as far as I was personally concerned.
It may be interesting to add how I came to Beta Sig and UCONN.
The year was 1949. I finished high school in NYC at the end of January without attending graduation and left for the University of Oklahoma. I didn’t have a football scholarship but I decided to go there because I had two friends from summer camp who encouraged me to join them and they had a good Theater School. I was interested in stage design and lighting, or so I thought.
I arrived in a blinding snowstorm and moved into a rooming house where my two friends were camped out. That proved to be a big mistake. I should have gone into the freshmen dorm and been more immersed in college life. The result was I never felt connected to the university.
It was the golden years of O.U. football and a great time to watch the Bud Wilkerson warriors conquer the Southwest Conference but it wasn’t enough to feel a real part of the university.
I got by. Changed my major a time or two, got decent grades and ended up hanging out with a couple of war veterans who had come back to college after the Korean War. I’m not sure why they put up with me. Truth be told, I was in over my head with their drinking, carousing and story-telling.
They were good ole Oklahoma boys—Chester Lee Limes, a womanizer of the first degree from Lawton; Edward Ward Williams, an Indian rights activist from Muskegee; and Dale Franchez, a chess-playing, pre-law student from Ardmore.
One day in the fall of 1950 I read a small filler article in the lower right corner of the inside left page of the Daily Oklahoman (I can still see it). It said that a new intercultural, interracial fraternity, had formed at the University of Connecticut, according to Sumner Cohen, UCONN’s Director of Housing.
I said “WOW,” I had to find out more. I wrote to Sumner Cohen at the University for a course catalogue and to hear more about Beta Sigma Gamma. It happened to be at a time I was thinking I probably should continue college closer to home.
During Christmas vacation I dragged my cousin Ron to go up with me to Storrs, Connecticut. We took a train from Grand Central to Hartford and then a bus to Storrs. It was pretty in the woods, out in the middle of nowhere. Would you believe we arrived in a snowstorm.
We got a brief campus tour and a visit with Mr. Cohen. He told us we could rent a room at Beta Sig beginning February 1st since their house was only 80% full. He gave me the name and phone number of one of the members, Dave Holmes, who I visited on my way back through Hartford.
So there I was on February 1st at UCONN in the Beta Sig fraternity house. It was new and exciting and a lot of fun. It was a great experience. I became a member shortly thereafter.
As the founding presidents, Gerry Brown and Danny Conn, graduated in a year or so, I became the third president.
We defeated a movement to install a quota system, we picketed a barbershop that refused to cut the hair of black students, and we helped start a girls’ sorority with the same platform.
At UCONN class attendance was not mandatory. Since I was so immersed in Beta Sig I didn’t make too many classes. When they averaged in my grades from O.U., I was able to skirt by and graduated in the summer of ’53.
It was a formative time in my life and we’ve had a chance to relive some of the bonds and memories at each of our three reunions.