When we look at our lives there are certain intervals that stand out for the way those moments shaped whom we are. And, as we progress in life we witness sheer joy, tragedy, and everything else in between. This helps create what they call a “base line” for reaction, interaction, and the wisdom we gather from those events.
The joyful times are births, promotions, trips, and living in the constant mode of discovery. The tragic times usually involve loss. I contend that while losing our parents is horrific… the time we come face to face with our own mortality is when a close friend of our generation dies. This blog is the story of two such dear friends/brothers that helped shape my life and contributed to the joy in so many other lives.
I first met these two brothers when I pledged Sigma Nu fraternity in Chico California, in the mid seventies. They were carefree times when we all lived in the moment in a time free of the enormous complexity of seemingly living under a microscope. Today, every deed is recorded to either confirm or deny the participation in interactions preferably kept on the QT.
The first brother I’d like to speak of is John Lentz AKA JL. John was a larger than life fraternity brother (a founding father to our beloved Sigma Nu). His smile could light up a room and his frown could suck the air out of that same room. When I pledged the fraternity in the spring of 1976 John was a sheriff candidate during the legendary Pioneer Days. Pioneer Days was a time when the fraternities, sororities, and others clubs would participate in a themed expose of a pre-selected time period reflecting the history through a multitude of artistic expressions.
Those “expressions” were the building of a pioneer town, costumes to portray the clubs chosen theme during that period, presents (elaborate choreographed musical numbers, two to be exact), a float, and finally the voting on the sheriff candidate representing the fraternities and the little nell candidate representing the sororities. These two candidates would be honored at the parade on the final day of pioneer week.
JL was our sheriff candidate highly respected by all the brothers. His charm and intellect drew even the most reluctant pledge into our fraternity. JL was a throwback to the days when men kept their word, honored their commitments, and lived larger than life. He was one of those guys that always had a saying appropriate for the moment that captured the room and left most speechless.
One time a couple years after I pledged JL and I had become dear friends. We decided to go out to the river during a driving rain storm and smoke a little ganja. The whole time I’m telling him that this wasn’t the best idea and he just looked at me and said, “The squad car has never been stuck.” Well, as the squad car sank in the mud just below the door handles I looked at him and exclaimed, “The squad car’s never been stuck.”
He just looked at me and said, “JJ, there’s always a first time for everything.” Shrugging our shoulders we climbed out of the car to safety and walked back to the frat house some four miles down the road. This was before cell phones and so there was no life line to shimmy out of that situation. Years later we laughed about that night and that precious memory we would never forget.
JL had an air of confidence that was contagious. He was a history teacher, a great salesman, and one of his passions was building rockets he would periodically launch with this two sons. His love for the brothers was a gift he gave to the very few that became lifelong friends.
Sadly he passed away several years ago but will never be forgotten. His legacy remains enshrined as his sherif candidate picture hangs (to this day) in the Oassis (a favorite watering hole) in the town of Chico, California.
And then there was the “Stump”, Steve Welch. Steve was another founding father that was a legend amongst many of that group of brothers that founded Sigma Nu Iota Kappa chapter #194. He was a mountain man that was cantankerous while spewing out witticism’s that left his audience wanting more.
I met Steve when I pledged and became good friends with him many years latter. When I was president of the fraternity I tried to have Steve kicked out for not paying his dues. This didn’t sit well with the brothers and so others jumped to his defense to pay his dues. Then, a year or two later we lived together (which wasn’t the best idea.) For some reason (I’m sure I provoked him) he came at me with an axe and cut me right below the knee. Even though all that happened Steve was a great brother that grew on you and became a legendary figure in our fraternity.
I submit that some of my favorite people are the ones I’ve had the most trouble with, sorted things out, and became the best of friends. Steve’s background included a stint in the Navy where he received a purple heart while in Vietnam. After Vietnam Steve became involved with the fraternity which continued until he wasn’t able to walk. Few have given as much as Steve for our beloved fraternity. Though a little rough around the edges he had a heart of gold. When Steve believed in you, you had a friend for life.
Steve passed away a few days ago. I will never forget his kindness and his love for the brothers lucky enough to call him friend. The reason I am writing this blog is to illustrate two points:
One. Always take the time to reach out and tell someone you care about how much they mean to you.
Two. These are just two examples of the close friends I’ve lost. As we get older these loses illuminate the fact that as we look in the mirror we now reflect on our own mortality.
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