Life Changes Prompt Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip for AE Pi Kapp Re-connecting with family, friends, and fraternity by Mike “O’D” O’Donnell, AE 1085 Approaching my 53rd birthday with no job; my daughter preparing to leave home and my mother having had a stroke, I decided that I was overdue for my mid-life crisis. What better way to face my mortality and the big changes that life brings than from the seat of a Harley Davidson for 30 days? I needed to get to Florida to visit my mother and to help my dad move closer to where she would be permanently hospitalized. At the same time, I did not want to miss the last summer I would have with my daughter before she left home to start college. With those goals in mind, my daughter saddled up with me and we headed south from Seattle on August 1st.
O'Donnell and daughter Shea on his Harley.
Our first day took us 400 miles down the I-5 corridor and over to the Oregon Coast Highway. We marveled at the massive rock formations jutting out of the Pacific Ocean; breathed in the cool, salty air, and appreciated views so pristine they were as unspoiled as the day they were first seen by Lewis and Clark. After a wonderful dinner and a good night’s sleep at a cozy sea-side bungalow, we continued our journey down the south Oregon coast and into Northern California. We chatted about life, family and world events via the two-way communication system in our helmets, interrupting each other only to point out the sights. A little American flag flew proudly from the back of our bike. There were long stretches of silence because the sights and sounds and feel of the road filled our senses and no words were necessary. In Northern California the 101 is called The Redwood Highway for good reason. We wound our way through the Redwood Forest between monsters so tall and so thick, they blocked out the sun. We were plunged into darkness, not by a tunnel, but by driving smack through the middle of one of the monsters. We stopped to tour the “Trees of Mystery,” took the cable car to the very top of the forest canopy, and then hiked down in our leathers. After a long hot tub and good night’s rest in Santa Rosa, we toured the wine country and tooled through the heart of the `City on the Bay.’ The steep cobble stone streets, cable cars, tall buildings, and the hustle and bustle of the city were a sharp contrast to the solitude of the northern coast highway. Just south of San Francisco we picked up the famous Pacific Coast Highway. O'Donnell and Pi Kapp little brother Craig Morrison.
Hwy 1 is aptly named because none can rival her. The coastal cities of Santa Cruz, Monterey and Carmel charmed us into staying longer than we had planned. We set out a few hours before sunset to take on the most famed stretch between Carmel and Santa Barbara. The hair pin turns and switchbacks demanded special attention, but they were more easily conquered on two wheels. We gunned it up the steep mountain cliffs, relished the sweeping vistas of the setting sun on the Pacific Ocean, and downshifted quickly to negotiate the dramatic falls from the backside of the cliffs. We stopped briefly to watch a colony of sea lions cuddle up for the night on a lonely stretch of beach. We waived to the Hearst Castle on the cliff and gave thumbs up to the little town of Harmony as we motored south into Santa Barbara for the night.
No trip to the LA area would be complete without stopping at Dukes in Malibu. After a scrumptious lunch and getting snarled in LA traffic, we enjoyed the last of our ride together down the Southern California Coast and into San Diego. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a tear-filled goodbye when I saw Shea off at the airport for her flight back to Seattle. It didn’t feel right not having her sitting behind me anymore, either chatting away about boys and college, or singing along with the tunes on her iPod. It was a sad and lonely ride through the California desert and into Arizona. My dad was expecting me in four days to help him move. I had 2,300 miles to go and needed to make time. There is nothing quite like blazing thru the desert on a Harley at 110 miles an hour: A bandanna across your face to protect you from the searing heat; a radar detector to protect you from the po po; cold water in your side satchel to protect you from the unrelenting thirst; and Steppenwolf’s "Born to be Wild" blaring O'Donnell avoiding a storm under an overpass. on the iPod through stereo speakers in your helmet. You know you're not merely alive, you’re living. The temperature was 120 degrees. My leathers had been replaced by shorts and a t-shirt. I rode 12 hours each day for three days on the less-traveled roads along the U.S. southern border. I saw remote cameras pointing south along our four-state border with Mexico. I saw blimps floating ominously in the sky, spying everything that moved for 50 miles. I saw makeshift internment camps and was stopped by the border patrol four times at improvised road blocks. I had come to the door step of the drug trade and illegal immigration war that is haunting our southern border. I can make no judgments about the border issue one way or another, save to say that having now driven its entire length, it is impossible to keep anyone in or out. Texas is so big it could qualify as its own country. It is not a place you can get through quickly. The gulf coast was a site for sore eyes. I glided quickly through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Like a horse heading for the barn, I was drawn faster back to the place I grew up and still called home. After getting my dad moved and spending a few poignant days with my ailing mother, it was time to reconnect with family, friends and fraternity. I helped my sister celebrate her 50th birthday. I visited cousins I had not seen in 25 years, one who is fighting a battle against breast cancer. I traveled to Gainesville to have lunch with my AE little brother, Craig Morrison. I had not seen Craig in almost 30 years. I discovered he had shaved his head in support of his wife, who had won her own battle with breast cancer. I got nostalgic driving by the AE house on fraternity row. It was another reminder of the impermanence of everything in life and how it often comes full circle. I had joined Pi Kappa Phi at Florida a few years after it had been reorganized from O'Donnell and daughter Shea at dinner the rubble. I had been blessed to live in that house with extraordinary after a long day's ride. young men who had dedicated themselves to seeing AE rise to become one of the most respected fraternities at Florida, and one of the best Pi Kapp chapters in the country. I took solace in the knowledge that a new group of young brothers would eventually come along and do it again in the future. The house was just biding its time. I crisscrossed Florida for two more weeks, dodging thunderstorms and meeting up with old high school friends and college buddies alike. My wife would have admonished me for not wearing a helmet, but
there was something very liberating about saddling a motorcycle and just going. No clock to watch, no where in particular to be. Just shorts, sandals and a tank top. Wind in my hair, sun on my face, and a new appreciation for life in my heart. I went air boating in the everglades and rode the seven mile bridge to Key West. I won $120 from some Miami Hurricane fans at a no name bar in some no-name town, betting on the Lady Gator soccer team. The winning goal was scored by Mackenzie Barney, who just happens to be my neighbor in Seattle. Yes, the Gator nation is everywhere! The highlight of my trip was a reunion of the Alpha Epsilon faithful in Tampa, Florida. I reconnected with brothers from my era and met others that I had an instant connection with. During and after the trip I received posts of encouragement on Facebook from many of the AE brethren. It was indeed an adventure that my daughter and I will savor for a lifetime. After 4,500 miles, I had a sore behind, but a fresh outlook. Jobs will come and go. Your kids will leave your house, but never your home. Your parents will leave this life, but their presence will always be felt for the rest of yours. Your siblings and friends will weather their own life changes from scattered places, but will always remain faithful to the youthful exuberance that defined you. And finally, that collegiate experience we call fraternity will always transcend time and our personal circumstances, to provide an unbreakable lifeline that is the immutable bond of brotherhood. Mike O’Donnell was initiated into the Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi on April 20, 1979. He served as Vice Archon and Archon. He worked for the national office from May 1981 to October 1983. He is a member of the Nu Phi Society and a recipient of the National Meritorious Service Award and the Beta Circle Award. His son Tyson was initiated into the Theta Iota Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at Washington State University on January 12, 2007 and served as Chaplain. His daughter Shea is currently enrolled at the University of Washington and calls the Alpha Delta Chapter her second home at UW.
Alpha Epsilon Housing Update Fixing Up the House By: Bill Charland, AE 1245 It was early March of 2009 when I received the phone call. It was Mark Timmes. “Bill, I have a hell of a mess at AE. Can you help me?” I replied, “Sure, Mark, what can I do?” Mark informed me that we had the potential to rent the house out for several years to another fraternity that was looking to get on campus. Leasing the house out would serve two purposes. First, we could generate some income and pay off several substantial debts that had been amassed by the previous active chapter and second, preserve our long range plan to re-colonize the Alpha Epsilon Chapter in about four years. Mark further informed me that he had a young man from Pi Kappa Phi Properties, Greg Buehner, in Gainesville working at the house trying to establish if renting the house was a viable option. I asked Mark, “What shape is the house in?” He replied, “I haven’t actually seen if for myself. I want you to go take a look and establish what the condition is and how much money it will cost to get it in leasable condition.”
“Ok”, I replied. “I can go up next week.” As I drove into Gainesville, it had occurred to me that I had only been back to the Pi Kapp house at most on three other occasions since graduating in the spring of 1987. The times that I had returned were just not enjoyable, so I stopped going. As I drew nearer to campus and turned onto Fraternity Row, thoughts of memories past started swirling in my head, the “Frat/hub” bus stop in front of our house, my favorite parking space in the dirt lot behind our house, and the football field across from our house. Of course, these are all gone now. Fraternity Row was reconfigured some years ago. This eliminated the bus stop and the football field. The dirt lot behind the house is now a maintenance access road for all the fraternity houses on that side of the Row. As I turned into the parking lot between the Pi Kapp house and the Beta house, which was under a substantial renovation, I got the first look at our house. As I held back a tear and swallowed hard, I thought, “How could we have fallen this far?” “How could something so great be degraded to this?” The yard was totally overgrown. Every window was boarded up. There were vines growing up the walls and over the roof. There was trash everywhere outside. I put my boots on and walked up to the front door. Greg was there waiting for me. We made our introductions. I asked Greg where he thought the best place to begin would be. He said, “Well, you can see the best in the kitchen.” There was no power or water available. Those services had been shut off and sent to collection for lack of payment. So we started in the kitchen. Those memories started swirling in my head again. I was remembering our cook Bertha with her big smile and a spoon in her hand. It did not take much light to figure out that the kitchen was a horrible mess. There was trash, pots & pans and used kitchen supplies strewn around. Most notably, there was rodent excrement everywhere. It was on the floor, the shelves, the dry goods storage closet and the walk-in cooler. In some areas, it was over a quarter of an inch thick. I asked Greg, “Is the kitchen the worst problem in the house?” Greg replied, “That depends on your perspective. The upstairs bathroom is pretty ripe.” I got my flashlight and we started to walk around. It had not been an hour when Mark called and asked me, “How does it look? What do you think?” Without hesitation I told him that we needed to scrape the house off the site and start over. Mark asked, “How much do you think we could spend?” I asked, “What level of service are you looking for?” He responded, “Think about how the house was when you were there.” I said, “You could spend as much as you want to. I am thinking half a million, easy.” Mark replied, “That’s ridiculous. Call me back after you have walked around and figured it out.” I was not joking. As Greg and I walked, in the dark, the memories really started flooding in: initiation night, pledge raids, my pledge book, the phone booth and answering the phone, beer sliding in the chapter room, the parties, the inter house room pranks and most importantly, all of the old faces and personalities of my era in the AE house. Each turn in the house only provided more destruction and disgust. Each turn only made me ask time and again, “How could this happen?” The extent of the destruction and lack of respect indicated clearly that those who lived here were neither happy nor part of the brotherhood that I remembered. For better or worse, it was clear that they wanted to make a lasting impression.
After three hours and several pages of writing, we called Mark. Again, he asked, “How much?” I said, “I would guess around $150,000, but that does not include the roof. I haven’t been up there yet.” He said, “We have $100,000, can you do it?” I said, “We can fix what $100,000 will buy. I hope that’s enough.” I left that day around 4:00 PM. As I drove south on I-75, Mark, Greg and I continued to speak about the project and what was needed to be accomplished in the next coming weeks. Greg became the full time point person for the project. While working with Mark in negotiating a lease with the tenant, he worked with me to define the scope of work that needed to get done and provided cost estimates accordingly. Our work list for the house included: clean everything, secure/rescue Pi Kappa Phi memorabilia, remove all the plywood from the window openings, clear the site of debris, complete yard maintenance, new carpeting throughout, new painting inside and out, drywall repairs in numerous areas, new doors for all the cubes, multiple plumbing repairs, a new 20 ton package air conditioning unit for the “old” house, new four ton split systems for the “Ben Hill Griffin Wing (BHGW)”, clean all ductwork, completely demolish the gang bathroom and shower in the BHGW and re-tile, new toilets, replace several broken windows, replace wood siding, fire alarm and sprinkler repairs, completely re-build several cube walls in rooms 6, 7, and 8, and complete pest and rodent control. As we approached the end of April in 2009, our estimates were all generally falling into place until we received the roofing prices. We had five respected local roofers provide us pricing. The least expensive price was $90,000. I asked two of my local (Broward County) roofers to go up and look. They both said “If you can get somebody to do that job for $90,000, good luck!” Simultaneously, the lease negotiations were getting tenuous. For a while, it appeared that the project might not move forward. Ultimately, I believe Mark made the decision that we could not let the house continue to sit there and deteriorate. It was an eyesore and the University was pressuring us to get something done. Even though we were over our construction budget, we had surmised that over a four year lease term with ZBT, Alpha Epsilon could pay its bills and get “right side up.” I told Mark, “Let me know when the lease is done and we will get to work.” We started the project in June of 2009. Greg was onsite for the first month continuously. After that, he came to the job when he could. I sent one of my working foremen, Dean Ringuette, to work with him. They hit it off instantly and ended up staying together in order to save money. I must say that for two young single guys living in Gainesville, they stayed focused on the job and worked hard. Over the next two and a half months, these two young men accomplished a tremendous amount of work. There were multiple pitfalls as we progressed through the project. At first, nothing was easy with the local vendors due to the chapter’s payment history. Everything was COD. Even the University of Florida utilities plant required COD before turning the water back on. We were lovingly referring to the house as “The Money Pit” from the famous Tom Hanks movie. The general contracting business is tough. The subcontractors are smart and they know how to take advantage of a situation that best suits their position. With two young guys on the job, the subs smelled “blood in the water”; however, anytime Greg or Dean were presented with a situation that they did not feel comfortable with, they would inform the subcontractors that “you must deal with Bill Charland on
that issue”. By the end of the summer, not only had we crafted a patchwork system to seal the roof for under $30,000, but we were able to get ZBT in on time for the fall term for under $130,000. The house wasn’t in perfect condition and ZBT worked with us in order to make the deal happen. The rooms were livable. The kitchen worked. The air conditioning and the bathrooms worked. ZBT was happy to be on campus and start rush. Everything seemed great and we were all looking forward to Gator football season. The end of summer 2009 marked what I now refer to as phase one of the work. Labor Day weekend has always been one of my favorite weekends. It’s the end of summer. For better or worse, everyone is excited about school starting and most importantly, Gator football is starting! While tailgating before the game I received a phone call from Greg, “Bill, ZBT just called and said that there is raw sewage spilling out all over the backyard and they are having a Bar-B-Q with a sorority and want to know what to do.” I could not believe it, and said “There’s no way! Everything was working fine. There is nothing we can do today. We need to call the University utilities plant and have them check the sewer connection.” That day began phase two of the renovation. There were a series of hidden plumbing issues that surfaced over the following 18 months that included replacing the outside sewer service, replacing water piping, completely demolishing the “old” gang bathroom by room 9 and rebuilding it, and most recently, replacing the sump pump for the basement. During this phase of construction, we have removed tuna cans and plastic coke bottles from the sewer lines; we have corrected illegal and noncode compliant plumbing issues; we rebuilt the "old" house gang bathroom during the winter break; and we continue to patch the roof and pray that nothing breaks down or falls apart. The facility of our "house" is at least fifteen years over its life cycle. It is a miracle that the roof functions at all. All of its systemic systems are terribly outdated. At times, this house has been treated horribly, yet this house lives on. I cannot tell what will happen next nor how long we can maintain a livable condition in this facility. My sincere hope is that we can get another two or three years use from this structure. And hopefully, sometime soon, we can build a new house of our own.
Pi Kapp Connections… Old Friends Meet for Annual Tampa Bay Rays Game Sometimes fraternity relationships last a lifetime. Such is the case for four Alpha Epsilon brothers from Sarasota, three of which have known each other since Little League baseball. Farrell Conlon, Tim Horvath, Bert Luer, and Mike Willis all grew up in Sarasota, and all went to Riverview High School together, graduating in 1975. Roommates in off campus housing while attending UF in the fall of 1977, the four befriended Pi Kapp brothers Walt Reddick and Mike Shepherd, who lived in the same apartment complex. That fall, Bert Luer pledged Pi Kapp, and eventually all four friends found their way into the chapter and contributed to the resurgence of the late 1970’s.
Fraternity brothers and friends gather at Ferg’s Sports Bar before a Tampa Bay Rays game against the Boston Red Sox. Standing left to right: Tim Horvath, Hal Reddick (cousin of Walt), Mike Willis, Bert Luer, Walt Reddick, and Farrell Conlon. Seated: David Bender and Wanda Smith.
For the last three years, Farrell Conlon has organized a gathering of the four friends at a Tampa Bay Rays game, with pre-game activities at Ferg’s, a sports bar just north of the stadium. Other Pi Kapps and friends have attended the annual gathering, including Walt Reddick, David Bender, and little sister extraordinaire Wanda Smith. The annual pre-game gathering at Ferg’s has the potential to grow into a large Pi Kapp event, so this coming year invitations will be sent to the alumni in the Tampa Bay area. Anyone with questions should contact Bert Luer at email@example.com.
Jacksonville AE Pi Kapps Gather for Florida – Georgia Weekend Taking advantage of the annual Florida – Georgia football game weekend, Jacksonville area Pi Kapps gathered on Friday, October 29, for a round of golf at the historic Selva Marina Country Club in Atlantic Beach. To avoid embarrassment, the scores will not be reported here, but it was mentioned from a very reliable source (who shall remain anonymous, but whose nickname is “Digger”) that the high score prize of the day belonged to Scott Hamilton. Of course, the group gathered in the clubhouse after the round to quench their thirst and discuss the weekend’s activities. On Saturday, those lucky enough to have tickets attended the game, in which the Gators continued their dominance over the Bulldogs with a 34-31 win. The golf outing is an annual event, so anyone attending Scott Hamilton, Chris Thomas, Asher Gray, John Haladyna, a future Florida – Georgia weekend who would like to and Tim Murphy join the group for golf on the Friday before the game should email Pete Cummings at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fraternity brothers and friends gather at Ferg’s Sports Bar before a Tampa Bay Rays game against the Boston Red Sox. Standing left to right: Tim Horvath, Hal Reddick (cousin of Walt), Mike Willis, Bert Luer, Walt Reddick, and Farrell Conlon. Seated: David Bender and Wanda Smith.
Alumni Organize Tampa Luncheons For several years, AE alumni Steve Stanford, James Perkins, and Mike Mitchell have organized luncheons in the Tampa Bay area for a large group of Alpha Epsilon brothers. The group has numbered as many as 25, and they usually try to meet at least twice a year. Rotating the venue around town, the group has met at multiple establishments including the Tampa location of Burrito Brothers, while it existed. Mike Mitchell assures us that the tradition will continue, and the numbers attending will surely grow as more Alpha Epsilon brothers are aware of the event. If you live or work in the Tampa area, make sure your email is on Mike’s invite list by emailing Mike at email@example.com. Don’t be the last to sign up! Don’t be a Pike!
Supremely Alpha Epsilon AE Alumni Featured Prominently in Orlando Convention In August, more than 750 alumni, students and friends of Pi Kappa Phi gathered in Orlando for the 52nd Supreme Chapter. At this year’s convention, Alpha Epsilon alumni figured prominently at the convention both with the number of alumni that were in attendance and the roles those alumni hold within the national fraternity. Seven AE Pi Kapps, representing four different decades attended the convention, tying Alpha Epsilon for the 5th largest alumni delegation. Alpha Epsilon alumni figured prominently in the leadership of the convention as well. At the time of the convention, Alpha Epsilon alumni were represented on the National Council, Pi Kappa Phi Properties Board and the Pi Kappa Phi Foundation Trustees. This made Alpha Epsilon one of only two chapters that could boast alumni serving on 3 of the 4 leadership boards for the national fraternity (Push America board being the 4th). In addition to these roles, Mark Timmes serves as Chief Executive Officer for Pi Kappa Phi and alumnus Pete Barr, was given the distinction of National Warden for the convention. This is an honorary position on the National Council for the convention to honor a local alumnus for his service to Pi Kappa Phi. Alumni attending the convention were: Pete Barr (1954)—National Warden Bob Paterno (1955) – Pi Kappa Phi Foundation Trustee Bob Halcrow (1968) David Pope (1968) Mark Timmes (1976)—Chief Executive Officer
Mark Timmes (left) addresses the Supreme Chapter at the start of a legislative session and Jeff Wahlen (right) scans the crowd and prepares to lead the more than 500 student and alumni delegates through the Supreme Chapter session.
Tim Hancock (1979) – Pi Kappa Phi Properties Board Member Jeff Wahlen (1981) – National President (2008-2010) But, the convention is about more than simply board meetings and ceremonial distinctions. It is an opportunity to reconnect with one another and reconnect with Pi Kappa Phi. At the Alumni Breakfast on Friday morning, Bob Halcrow and David Pope were able to reconnect with one another. Halcrow and Pope were initiated in to AE in the same year, but had not seen one another in several years. Supreme Chapter provided an outstanding back drop with which to rekindle their friendship. “This was the first Supreme Chapter that I had ever attended, and because of my work schedule, my attendence was limited in time. However, during the parts I attended ( Opening, Alumni Breakfast, Banquet, and Ritual of Initation) my thoughts and feelings were transcended backwards 40 years to a time I realize only now how much Pi Kappa Phi meant and still means to me.” Said Pope, “Seeing Bob Halcrow, and reliving some old times, and catching up on lost years was a blast. Connecting with other AE's that I had never known was so easy because of our shared bond.” Pi Kappa Phi’s next convention will be held in Washington, D.C. on August 2-5, 2012. In addition to celebrating the return of Alpha Epsilon (which is expected to take place in 2012), this convention will also commemorate the 35th anniversary of Push America, Pi Kappa Phi’s national philanthropy which was started in 1977.
One Pi Kapp’s Vision for Tomorrow Story of an AE father and his partnership with local charity By: Adam Mopsick, AE 1703 "Your baby will see." We will never forget those words or the tone they were spoken in. In December of 2007, our third son, Colton, was five days old and had just been examined by a pediatric ophthalmologist following our routine pediatrician’s visit. Our pediatrician didn’t like something he saw during the checkup and in the most-gentle manner, referred us to his friend – the Head of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Miami Children’s Hospital. “Your baby will see,” he said in a tone that was so gentle and reassuring that it confused me. My first thought was ‘of course my baby will see – was there ever any question? Why wouldn’t he see?’ What followed next was the diagnosis: aniridia. And the implications: Colton will be visually impaired. There are certain moments in your life that are defining in that they change you and how you view the world. This was one. We entered a different, scary, uncertain, but, make no mistake, equally wonderful world. Visually impaired. What did that even mean? Blind. That word scared me; it still does. When Colton was about a year old, we read about a man who, after almost 40 years of being completely blind, had his sight restored. Science and research had made amazing strides with respect to his particular ocular problem and he was able, through the “miracle” of modern
medicine, to see. We were, and continue to be, fueled by his story. It is one of hope. We have joined forces with The Vision for Tomorrow Foundation (a 501 (c) (3) organization). On November 7, 2010 we hosted SeeFit, a Family Fun & Fitness Event in Miami Beach, Florida to raise funds for research; research which will help not only our son but the millions of others who are visually impaired or blind. If you are interested in learning more about Vision for Tomorrow or the See Fit event, should contact Adam Mopsick.
In 1986, a group of AE Pi Kapps work to clean up the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, also known as the ‘Swamp.’ For decades, AE Pi Kapps shared this tradition, both as an activity for chapter members to engage in and as a way to honor the late brother Griffin.