“It is an honor and a privilege to be a Chi Psi.” — Dr. Dan Ahlberg, Nu `67, #7 of Chi Psi.
For the last two and a half years, it has been an even greater honor and privilege to work for Chi Psi. I have bonded with so many wonderful Brothers, visited more than 30 college campuses, and collected a lifetime worth of memories. While there are tough days when it is easy to get down on things, there are an even greater number of moments that amaze me. I think about my first convention, the Educational Trust programs that I’ve led, the Colorado refounding, and the initiations I’ve attended, and these are all moments that will be with me forever. These are sublime Chi Psi moments.
I’ve got a new experience to share today that will certainly be with me for a long time.
At a staff retreat in early December I mentioned to Sam Bessey that I was thinking of making a trip to Huntington, WV over the holidays. One of my best friends, Jeff Griffin, Rho Delta `10, lives in Ironton, OH and the current Rho Delta #1, Forrest McGuire, lives just across the Ohio river in Huntington. With an easy three-hour drive I could visit two great Brothers and see a new part of the country. Sam had an idea. “I’ve corresponded with a Brother Thomas who lives in Huntington. I’ve not been in his neck of the woods but I’ve always wanted to visit. Would you have an interest in saying hello while you’re in the area?” I asked Sam for a little more information about the Brother and when he said that Brother Thomas was Alpha Beta Delta class of 1938 I knew I had to visit. 1938? Wow. After a few phone calls, we were set to visit on at noon on December 22.
Brs. McGuire, Griffin, and I arrived at Brother Brast Thomas’ home right at noon. After exchanging a few pleasantries the conversation turned to Chi Psi. There are three things that stood at to me as I listened to him recount his Chi Psi experience.
Chi Psi comes second.
Throughout our conversation, Br. Thomas repeatedly referenced the academic rigors of Lehigh and Alpha Beta Delta. He spoke about how the Alpha had such a great relationship with the faculty that it was a common occurrence to see professors at the Lodge tutoring Brothers. While at first this seemed foreign to me, I began to understand when he described the pressure that Brothers put on each other to achieve. The Alpha took great care to ensure they always ranked near the top of the fraternity ranks, and they always did.
Chi Psi is our sanctuary.
The words ‘family’ and ‘home’ repeatedly came up during our discussion. For many of us Chi Psi is like our family away from our family (and our home away from our home). Br. Thomas recalled this sentiment being prevalent throughout his experience. My favorite story that he told me was that the Lodge at Lehigh never had an “open door policy” like all the other fraternity houses of the day. I questioned him by asking “don’t you want people to always feel welcomed at the Lodge?” His answer was something that truly hit home for me. “We always kept our doors locked so that every guest had the opportunity to be welcomed into the Lodge. If the door was locked, a Brother had to come let the guest in. Everyone got greeted at the door and was accompanied as they were shown around the Lodge. We thought that was more welcoming than letting just anybody walk in.”
Chi Psi is boundless.
You might think that randomly going to visit a 97-year-old Chi Psi alumnus whom I had never met would be intimidating or awkward; this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our conversation flowed freely and never once did I feel uncomfortable. The one thing that I kept coming back to was how unique of an encounter this was. Here we are, a group of young men ranging from 19-24 going to visit someone 70 years our senior and it all makes perfect sense. We talked about politics, we shared things about our selves, and we recounted our favorite Chi Psi experiences.
The thing that ultimately binds us all together is our shared experience in the ritual of Chi Psi. I know that I can still remember my initiation vividly, but would you believe me if I told you that Br. Thomas can recount his initiation in great detail? I hear all the time that for 171 years Chi Psi’s initiation has lost no luster. While I believe it, you can imagine that it became so much more real to hear it straight from a Brother who was initiated on the weekend of February 17th, 1934. Nearly seventy-eight years of life have not dulled his vision of our ritual. Chi Psi is a lifetime memory and this was never more true than in the case of Br. Brast Thomas.