The 1980s: An Observer’s Hastily Scribbled Notes

Omicron Oracle

October 31, 1999

Editor's note: In 1999, our chapter house at 125 Edgemoor Lane will be 100 years old; we have occupied the building since 1920. To help celebrate the anniversary, The Omicron Oracle is asking certain alumni to recall life at 125 Edgemoor Lane over the various decades that it has housed our fraternity.

Editor’s further memo: I contracted with Bill “Veg” Noon at Homecoming ’98 to write up his recollections of Lambda Chi Alpha in the ’80s. I said I was looking for the gestalt of the decade. I foolishly paid him in advance. After several months of silence and with looming deadlines, I tracked him down to his winter hideaway, conveniently close to Dunbar’s and the Chapter House. When confronted, he pushed into my hands some scribbled notes and left saying he was looking for a 10-year-old single gestalt whiskey. What follows is my best interpretation of those notes.

Lambda Chi and Cornell social life in the early ’80s was dominated by big parties. Cornell encouraged all freshmen to come and meet the members of the Greek system, and to ensure everyone had fun, they brought a beer truck onto the Arts Quad and old beer for 25 cents a glass. I watched Steve Paulson defend the house’s honor against give Sigma Delta Tau women— successfully. That was my first encounter with Lambda Chi Alpha.

The music was good. The Ramones played in Barton after the Slope (I believe it is still echoing in there). Robert Cray on Libe Slope in mid-summer. The Grateful Dead in Schoellkopf (they were banned after the fans took up the artificial turf to use as shelter during a rainstorm).

The Phi Psi 500 was a late spring bash that brought out 90 percent of the university. All the streets in Collegetown were blocked off for a full day and filled with a slow-motion parade of costumed students. It was some distorted mirror of Mardi Gras that was organized around a race that few bothered to finish. Brothers dragged a faux boat around Collegetown with Dave Derwin leading them in rowdy song.

"Days Parties” became a major event. The parties moved from the second floor to the basement to include most of the house. Attendance increased over the years and peaked at more than 500. They became so large that they spawned their own set of sub-parties. There was the Make-the-Kahlua party a day or two in advance. The pre-(might as well get started now) party. The “hat” parties in the South 40 when things got too crowded downstairs. And, best of all, the dawn party for those too caffeinated to sleep.

Ray Melton was a stabilizing force all along. You always knew that you could head down to the kitchen in the afternoon and grab some food and maybe collect some wisdom. Ray would always be willing to dispense some advice about women ("What are you worried about? You going to marry her?") or inter-fraternal relations ("S—-, buddy, nothing wrong with that house that some dynamite can’t fix.”).

Random events became traditions. Steve Fakharzadeh brought newspapers to read at hockey games. The rattle and apparent lack of interest during the opposing team’s introduction quickly became a hallmark of the Lynah faithful. Paul Grisham brought eggs to Dunbar’s to put raw in a pint of Guinness; Dunbar’s still offers this treat every St. Patrick’s Day.

Some house meetings were more interesting than others: Michael Marinovic argued for the house to ban shooting bottle rockets in the stairwell. Down the hall is fine, he said, but the stairwell was too dangerous. Steve Putcher asked that brothers not party in the hall outside of his room until dawn every weeknight. Motion defeated.

This hard running and devil-may-care environment couldn’t last forever. Individually the brothers ran into the reality of a tightening job market that valued grades more than partying. Each year it seeemed that the number of “ding” letters on the wall in the Mitchell Room increased. The Wall Street Journal interviewed Winston Jenks about the house “ding wall” in 1983.

After that, it wasn’t news. Both the fraternity and the university became more aware of their increased liability and responsibility. The drinking age increased first to 19 and later to 21. The majority of college students were now underage drinkers.

This combination pretty much ended the large, open parties. Cornell was no longer amused.

However, Lambda Chis would do what they have always done best: have fun anyway. Rob Edwards and Greg Leiberman would compete to see who could eat the most Climbers. John Valencia would wrestle anything that came within reach. Neil Tyrrell (former Alpha)would patiently explain to Chris DiNapoli and Pete Watridge (present and future Alphas) about the importance of the midnight dairy store run.

Occasionally the situation got out of hand. Jim Hilsenteger survived a fall in the gorge by only breaking his femur. Mike Telban single-handedly tried to stop the A.M. raid. We listened to Duran Duran.