By H. Stetson Tinkham ’67 and David Hastings, Jr. ’70
Epsilon Chapter of Chi Phi fraternity holds 1960s Reunion
At small colleges, the alumni section of newsletters often features just a half-dozen faces of graduates under a pennant with only their single class year number.
It is tough to break that practice and update that model to attract more alumni. But the Epsilon Chapter of Chi Phi fraternity at Hampden-Sydney College came up with a highly successful answer: the Block (of time) Party.
The goal of this reunion was to assemble as many of the brothers as possible who were members of the chapter at some time during the 1960s.
It all started in the winter of 2013, as a few brothers and their wives, huddled around the table at dinner in a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, turned nostalgic and realized that they had attended Hampden-Sydney College during a unusual block of time—the 1960s. It was a Dickensian moment of realization: the best of times, the worst of times. It was the time of Vietnam and the British (pop music) Invasion. It was a time when staying off the draft board list was just as important as being on the dean’s list, and when the pursuit of a degree was essentially a matter of survival to an extent not seen since World War II.
The concept of a reunion, not of a single class, but of a decade of brothers of the Chi Phi fraternity, emerged through telephone calls and e-mails over several months. Could the prospect of such a gathering generate enough interest to find brothers who would put together a slate of activities that would draw more than the usual handful of attendees?
The small circle of dinner guests morphed into a committee. The committee generated a database and then an online blog: specifically, a dropbox folder in “the cloud,” where biographies, pictures, and tall tales began to accumulate. Using the Chi Phi directory and through hundreds of e-mails and dozens of telephone calls, the list
of brothers who were reconnecting with each other grew. Looking a full year ahead, the committee coordinated a date with the current brothers of the newly re-chartered Epsilon Chapter of Chi Phi and through liaison with the College administration. They negotiated group rates with local innkeepers and made food service arrangements. A calendar of events began to take shape.
At last, on March 20, 2014, fifty-eight brothers of the ’60s, along with wives, companions, children, friends, and invited guests showed up, put on nametags, and donned commemorative ball caps. The weekend took off, accompanied by the sound of the ancient (and original) house band, The Sherwoods. Although there was a tendency to clump into class groups initially, the camaraderie of the decade quickly reestablished itself, and the spirit of the block Party rekindled friendships and bonds of brotherhood from college days of long ago.
The retrospective reflections of the participants were not all centered on Vietnam and Selective Service.
The centerpiece of the weekend took shape in the form of a tribute to Lancaster P. Brown, the caretaker at Chi Phi for more than fifty years. The brothers had never exhibited a shortage of appreciation for Lank or his wife, Victoria, while they were alive. But they took advantage of this opportunity to thank them for their years of service.
“Lank’s World” was a presentation conducted at Mercy Seat Baptist Church on the life and times of the Brown family. The entire weekend gathering attended the presentation, which included an address by College President Dr. Christopher B. Howard. The brothers decided to reach out to the community through both a charitable trust and by establishing a scholarship fund in honor of Brown. For these several hours, the reunion became a very solemn and respectful affair. Through it, the brothers formally articulated their appreciation for Lank and his family. His friendship and his counsel remain today a strong force in the bond among Epsilon brothers.
That evening, in the old gym, an “Epsilon Brothers of the ’60s” dinner was another highlight of the weekend. The large group in attendance dined on a varied menu of outstanding and beautifully presented dishes. Following the meal, a candle was lighted for each brother who had gone from this life, and then the microphone was made available to any brother brave enough to share a story or make a philosophical pronouncement ... both occurred.
Back at Chi Phi’s Party Bunker, after a few more hours of reminiscing to the music of The Sherwoods, the event came to a soulful end as the band struggled to remember the words to “Louie Louie.” Adjournment was at a much more respectable hour than it would have been at 1960s parties. Throughout the reunion, the brothers—perhaps because of their wives—were shockingly well-behaved. The Sherwoods donated funds for a dinner at the outstanding Fishin’ Pig restaurant to the 2014 Chi Phi pledge class, with any remaining funds to be forwarded to the Mercy Seat Baptist Church. Plans for an encore of this event are already underway, and the brothers are determined keep the spirit of their fraternity alive.
The initial concept of a block Party that included all the brothers of the ’60s turned out to be a brilliant idea. The group’s e-mail address list is approaching 200 names. Legends, now re-explored, and stories, now retold, reveal that in some cases, truth exceeds tall tale. Long lost but not forgotten friendships interrupted by the events of the 1960s have been renewed. That love of life at Hampden-Sydney and of the Chi Phi brotherhood has been revived. In the months following the reunion, many mini- reunions took place among friends who found the March event too short, wanting to continue unfinished conversations begun on campus.
That all these things came to pass is a testimony not only to the power of old friendships, good wine, and an expensive dinner in Charleston, South Carolina, but also to thinking “outside the block.”