Notable Lambda Alumni
Whenever a new subject for a feature article in Cross & Crescent is proposed, that becomes a time of great excitement and discovery because the staff gets to work, identifying those items that will be of greatest interest to our readers.
Of course it is always a challenge because we are unable to include everything and everyone in the article. In this issue we feature our Lambda chapter at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The chapter’s beginning was in 1912, at the specific invitation of our founder, Warren Cole (Boston 1912), to establish a chapter at MIT and to become a part of Lambda Chi Alpha.
Zenas Crocker (Lambda 1), with the assistance of Allen Brewer (Lambda 8), organized the group of eight men to be installed. The installation team consisted of brothers from Boston, Massachusetts State College, and Brown.
Crocker later played a major role in the early history of the chapter with his financial support and his purchase of a house at 441 Beacon Street, in the name of the chapter. In addition, he held the position of Supreme Eminent Quaestor on our Fraternity’s Board of Directors. Years later his son would also be initiated into the MIT chapter.
Two other brothers, Alvah S. Holway (Lambda 13) and Arthur W. Carpenter (Lambda 16), played significant roles in the national organization. Holway served on the Fraternity Board as the Supreme Eminent Consul, Grand High Gamma, and Grand High Pi while Carpenter served as the Grand High Tau.
I began my research for this article by reading the Lambda ‘Lumni Lantern, the first issue of which was dated February 1, 1917. It was an excellent publication, used to keep the chapter alumni informed of events and news of interest.
The second issue, dated March 1, 1917, identified Dinsmore “Dins” Ely (Lambda 41) as the newly-elected chapter president. Leaving school before he graduated, Dins enlisted, eventually becoming a member of the Lafayette Flying Corps in France, and saw frequent combat action during World War I. He wrote to his parents on numerous occasions and expressed these feelings in his last letter to them:
“And I want to say in closing, if anything should happen to me, let’s have no mourning in spirit or in dress. Like a Liberty Bond, it is an investment, not a loss when a man dies for his country. It is an honor to his family: and is that the time for weeping? I would rather leave my family rich in pleasant memories of my life than numbed in sorrow at my death.”
Brother Ely died in combat on April 21, 1918. His death received a great deal of press in American and French newspapers and his final letter was released to the press by his father. Both the undergraduate and alumni brothers were devastated by his death. Determined to perpetuate his memory they petitioned the Fraternity’s Board for special dispensation for the name of the chapter. In 1919, the Board authorized the use of Dinsmore Ely Zeta for our MIT chapter.
Another brother, Col. Edwin T. Cole (Lambda 34), also saw considerable action in World War I. Col. Cole had become an honorary initiate in June, 1914, and served as the chapter advisor. On numerous occasions he and his wife welcomed the brothers to their home for dinners and social events. At the time, Cole was the professor of Military Science at MIT. Brother Cole holds a distinction within Lambda Chi Alpha of being the first of more than 100 brothers to have graduated from West Point. He also fought in the Spanish-American War and was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery.
As an undergraduate in the early 1960s I kept hearing stories about some brother named Smoot who, as part of a pledge (today called associate member) assignment, was used to measure a bridge in Boston. It took more than 40 years but I finally had a chance to meet him, at a fraternity event in Washington, D.C. His name is Oliver Reed Smoot, Jr. (Lambda 454) and he is the former chairman of the board of American National Standards Institute, and the former president of the International Organization for Standardization.
I must add that the “Smoot” is an official unit of measure, named in his honor. It seems that in 1958, when a pledge, he was used by a group of Lambda Chis to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge. Brother Smoot is 5 feet 7 inches and the other Lambda Chis made a mark as they laid him, again and again, across the bridge. The marks are repainted each year and the bridge is officially 364.4 Smoots plus or minus one ear in length.
“Currently we have 55 men in the chapter, 22 of whom will be initiated this semester. This summer we will be celebrating our 100th continuous year as a chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha. Bruce Twickler at firstname.lastname@example.org is the person to contact for the event. Most of the celebration will be taking place in our mansion and the main focus will be our capital campaign to renovate the house. The theme will be ‘spring forward for the next 100 years.’ Our alumni have been very supportive in contributing money which has already been used in several renovation projects. The mansion used to belong to a former governor of Massachusetts and it was purchased by the chapter over 50 years ago. It sleeps 47. The library is the main social hub of the house with all chapter meetings held there. Almost everything is held in that area from recruitment events, to social functions, to our poker tournaments.”
Looking back to the beginning of the chapter it seems that we have always been well represented on the MIT varsity teams.
“Today’s brothers are no different. The overwhelming majority are involved in one or more varsity sports and about 15 years ago the chapter was written up in an article in Sports Illustrated. Traditionally, the chapter has always had many basketball players and the starting five on the current team are all brothers. (At the time this article is prepared the team has lost but one game and is ranked 5th in their division.) The brothers involved in varsity sports are excellent their time management. They know when they have to get stuff done and they do it. We have very strong support groups in courses, taking classes and doing homework together.”
It must be great to have alumni support!
“Yes, we are very fortunate to have William Coleman (Lambda 777) who provides support and lives close. Steve Pettinato (Lambda 713) visits the chapter, meets with parents, and is always available providing assistance.”
House Corporation President
Today, alumni and undergraduates continue to celebrate the long legacy of the Lambda chapter at MIT. The current fundraising campaign looks to raise $3 million, with the majority of the funds going toward the renovations of the chapter’s historic Boston house that was built in 1906 and served at one point as the governor’s mansion. The house still includes some of the original wiring that was installed more than a century ago.
Tom O’Connor (Lambda 417), a Lambda alum, recently presented a quote for repairs to the house and he will likely lead the renovations. O’Connor has deep roots into the famous Smoot story since he was the pledge trainer who tasked the group of pledges, including Smoot, to measure the Harvard Bridge. Thus, the Smoot legend was born. Now, O’Connor plans to further his role in the chapter’s legacy by assisting with the renovations.
The rich history of Lambda will be honored in June during the chapter’s Centennial Celebration. Pettinato is eager to see the hundreds of brothers of all different ages who will be in attendance for the weekend ceremonies.
The expected plans include a gala dinner at the Harvard Club, a golf outing, a barbeque, and a groundbreaking ceremony for the renovations on the historic chapter house. The 100-year celebration will be held over the same weekend as the MIT graduation. Additionally, the Centennial is the same weekend as the 50th anniversary of the graduation of Smoot and the members from his pledge class. Pettinato expects several brothers from that generation to be in attendance.
Pettinato recalls a conversation he had with a friend, a member of Delta Tau Delta, who had recently participated in a ceremony honoring his own chapter’s 75th anniversary. For the event their committee had hired a band to entertain the attendees. Unfortunately the band never had a chance to play because the microphone was always commandeered by a brother sharing a story from his fraternity days. Pettinato hopes Lambda’s Centennial will be similar; a collection of brothers sharing memories and enjoying their deep bond of brotherhood that developed during their time at MIT.
“In some ways I’m going to get more out of it than anybody because I’ve been talking to these people for such a long time that I know more of the spread than anybody,” he said. “There will be a lot of neat things. We’re going to put together a lot of faces. It’s going to be a great time to tell stories, there’s going to be a lot of laughs. We’ll do ceremonies and this and that. We’ll do songs but it will just be a reminder of what a great bonding experience we’ve all had in common.”