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Living in a College Fraternity in the 1960s and 1970s

Paul is a lifetime member of the Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemistry fraternity. He pledged the Alpha chapter in Madison in 1966.

Alpha Chi Sigma Alpha Chapter at the University of Wisconsin in Madison

Picture taken in June 2019

Picture taken in June 2019

Living in Alpha Chi Sigma Professional Chemistry College Fraternity Chapter Houses

In May 1966, I pledged membership in the Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemistry fraternity at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I was a second-semester senior and had almost completed all of my chemistry courses for a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. I had also been accepted into the University of Michigan Graduate School at Ann Arbor for advanced study in chemistry.

When I decided to pledge membership, I realized that Alpha Chi Sigma would be beneficial both professionally and socially.

In this article, I recall living in the Alpha and Alpha Beta chapter houses in Madison and Ann Arbor respectively. I also remember staying briefly at the Sigma chapter house in Berkeley in 1973 and the Alpha chapter house again in 1979.

Pledging and Becoming a Member of Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity

In May 1966, following three months of pledge training, I became a member of the Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemistry fraternity at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

It was a fun and interesting time learning about the fraternity and getting to know my fraternity brothers and fellow pledges.

After three months of training, we learned about the history and aims of Alpha Chi Sigma. This was done through the assistance of a pledge trainer and by decorating a piece of wood with the coat of arms of the Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity. Each fraternity member quizzed me and other pledges about the history and aims of the fraternity before signing the back of the plaque.

Socially, we got familiar with fraternity house activities by attending periodic beer suppers and parties.

The climax of our pledge training was a hell weekend when we were formally and informally initiated. During the formal initiation, we were blindfolded and led to secret rooms in the big fraternity house to learn Alpha Chi Sigma secrets.

Alpha Chi Sigma 1966 Fraternity Brothers

1966 fraternity members when I pledged Alpha Chi Sigma

1966 fraternity members when I pledged Alpha Chi Sigma

Spending Summer in the Alpha Chapter Fraternity House

I spent an eight-week summer session in 1966 finishing up my degree by taking a physical chemistry lab. While on campus, it was my first experience living in the Alpha chapter house with 10-15 other brothers and boarders.

On the second floor, I had a medium-sized room shared with another brother. I slept, however, in a big dorm off of a bathroom with three sinks, two commodes, and two showers.

The first floor of the fraternity house was huge. It included a big library, spacious living room, dining room, and kitchen. There was also a half-bath next to a stairway leading to the second floor off of the front entranceway

During that summer session, my best fraternity brother and I spent a lot of time on a balcony off of a second-floor room. Since there was no cook for that summer, we did our cooking and usually ate on the balcony.

Living in the Alpha Beta Chapter House

After getting my Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in August 1966, I attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. From September 1966 until February 1967, I started working toward a Master's degree in chemistry.

Making use of my Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity affiliation, I lived in the Alpha Beta chapter house. It was smaller than the Alpha chapter house but could still house 15-20 brothers and boarders.

I shared a large room on the second floor with two boarders. One was working on a Master's degree in chemistry and the other a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.

The first floor of the Alpha Beta house had a small TV room and a huge living room. The dining room and kitchen, however, were in the basement. Boarders and brothers shared study rooms on the second and third floors. Everyone slept in a dorm on the third floor.

The fraternity seemed to have fewer social activities than the Alpha chapter. Besides monthly meetings, there was only one party while I was there. I will always remember the October meeting. One of the brothers brought skinflicks and we viewed them projected onto the living room wall.

I moved out of the fraternity in February when I withdrew from the university to enlist in the Navy Reserve back in Wisconsin.

Returning to the Alpha Chapter House — February–May 1967

On the morning of February 14, 1967, I withdrew from the University of Michigan. Having already packed my trunk the night before, my roommate in the Alpha Beta chapter house drove me to the Ann Arbor Greyhound Bus Station in the early afternoon. My destination was Racine, Wisconsin, where I would swear into the Navy Reserve at 8:00 a.m. on February 15. I would be a member of the inactive Navy Reserve and report for active duty basic training on June 15, 1967.

My biggest problem was now resolved. The Army couldn't draft me because I was now in the Navy. The next problem was deciding how I would spend the next four months.

I never considered going back to Honey Creek to live at home with mom and dad. Having dropped out of school, I thought I was a failure and felt ashamed to go back. Even if I had gone back, I would have felt bored and miserable.

Therefore, as early as the end of November 1966, I decided to live with my Alpha house brothers in Madison. Fortunately, they understood my situation and allowed me to live in the fraternity even though I wasn't a student.

After I arrived at the fraternity house, I was given a lower bunk in the house dorm. The next morning, a close fraternity brother helped me get a job in the Wisconsin Student Union. I was now an attendant in the pool and billiard hall. My working hours were from 8:00 until 4:00 Monday-Friday.

Fraternity social life seemed a lot different now that I wasn't a student. I had no desire to participate in fraternity parties and regarded myself as an educated bum.

Just the same, I had fraternity brothers to talk with when I felt depressed. I hadn't wanted to go into the Navy but had no choice. Thankfully, my brothers gave me support and helped me pass the time leading up to my Navy active duty service.

Living Again in Alpha Chapter House — February–May 1972

In February 1972, I returned to live in the Alpha chapter fraternity house in Madison for the third time. I had just finished a four-year hitch in the Navy and six months living at home.

Originally, I had planned to go back to the University of Wisconsin in September 1971 to prepare to teach high school chemistry. On the day I started to move into the fraternity, I had a sudden change of mind. My future happiness would be getting a Master's degree in Chinese language and literature.

It was too late to apply for study in the fall semester. Instead, I enrolled in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature as a graduate student in February 1972. As a life-long Alpha Chi Sigma member, I would still be able to live in the Alpha house.

Although I wasn't studying chemistry, my brothers accepted me and I had a great time living in the fraternity house. To make things better, three old brothers from 1967 were still living there.

The Alpha house had more boarders now and I was given a study room with a boarder and brother on the second floor. I slept in the same dorm as I did in 1967.

I attended all fraternity meetings and even went to a few parties. Alpha house still had a cook so I didn't have to worry about dinner on weekdays.

One of my old brothers from 1967 was a member of the Badger Photographic Society. After he became manager of the Society's house just off of campus, I moved there with him in June for the 1972 summer session. I paid more for rent but had a much bigger and better room to myself.

Staying at the Sigma Chapter House at Berkeley, California in May 1973

In the last week of May 1973, four students in my Chinese classes and I traveled by car from Madison to San Francisco. Our final destination was Taipei, Taiwan where we would be spending the summer studying Chinese.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived in San Francisco after more than one day of driving. We had planned to spend a couple of nights with Todd's friend in the Bay area. After this plan fell through, my classmates all started to panic.

Remembering that Alpha Chi Sigma had a Sigma chapter house at the University of California in Berkeley, I suggested that we drive over there and see if I could get permission for us to stay at the fraternity for two nights. We had nothing to lose and it would be a lot more expensive to stay in a motel.

Upon arriving at the Sigma house, I convinced a fraternity brother there that I was indeed an Alpha Chi Sigma member. He allowed my classmates and me to stay in the house until we went to the airport to catch our charter flight two days later.

My Final Stay at the Alpha Chi Sigma Alpha Chapter House in July 1979

Alpha Chi Sigma Alpha house at 619 Lake St.

Alpha Chi Sigma Alpha house at 619 Lake St.

I lived in Taiwan from May 1973 until July 1979. When I came back to the United States, I was a family man. I had a Taiwanese wife and one son.

After spending two weeks with my folks, I took the family to Madison in search of work around the University of Wisconsin area. For the final time, I returned to Alpha house on Lake Street.

The fraternity house at 621 North Lake was now bigger having acquired the former Pharmacy fraternity house next door at 619 Lake. Alpha Chi Sigma was now coed. Men lived in the old house at 621 and women members lived at 619. Fortunately, the fraternity sisters allowed my family and me to stay in the 619 house for two nights. I remember paying very little rent and was even given kitchen privileges where my wife did some cooking.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Paul Richard Kuehn

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