The One that Got Away

When I was a freshman at Augustana College, I pledged the Gamma Alpha Beta (“GAB”) fraternity. I was one of 12 pledge brothers. The Brahmins of the fraternity scheduled a school dance for a Saturday night – “The GAB a GO GO.” My pledge brothers and I were tasked to put up a sign to hang between the Science Building and the Student Union. We had to do it at midnight – to provide amazement, astonishment, revelation and wonder for those seeing it the next morning. Great.

At the appointed hour, my brothers and I gathered in the black of night between the two buildings. Not another soul around. The problem was getting the sign high enough between the buildings. So two enterprising brothers went off to look for a ladder. They found one – leaning against a house – across from campus. They figured why not – and brought it back. Little did they know that the homeowner was awake, heard noise, saw the filch – and called the police.

We were all puttering around with the sign when I noticed some vehicles – lights off – driving slowly up a center road on campus. And I thought uh oh. . . . . The Science Building had a fire escape held up by angled struts. I climbed up on a metal rail surrounding a window well and jumped for the strut. I grabbed the strut and pulled myself up on the fire escape just as the cars – and a coterie of uniformed police – turned on their lights.  I lay face down on the fire escape.  Watching. The police loaded my eleven brothers into the vehicles – and off they went. Leaving me alone.  In the dark.

I ran to a dorm and banged on the door of my Big Brother – Bob A. He, Bill L., Warren and I piled into a car and drove to the Rock Island Police Station. We arrived just as my brothers were being released from a jail cell. It had been determined it was all a misunderstanding. I recounted this event – briefly – on December 5, 2019. But this event continues to bring a smile to everyone’s face. Especially mine. . . . 🙂


When I was 16, well into my senior year of high school, I went to see my guidance counselor – Floyd Hillman.  Mr. Hillman told me (the words are etched in my brain) “I think I can get you a job as an assistant plumber.”  I sat.  And wanted to cry.  I didn’t want to be an assistant plumber.  And I left.  Sad about my impending future.  But a few of my friends were talking about “college.”  College sounded pretty good. 

My father never finished high school and my mother never went to college.  So we never talked much about college.  I would finish high school and then go to work.  Even so, I went home and mentioned “college” to my father.  “College?” he said.  “The only guy I know who went to college was Bill Swanson.”  He looked at me.  “You wanna go to college??”  I nodded — having little clue as to what that meant. . . .

We went to see Mr. Swanson.  He said “I went to Augustana College.  Maybe I could get you an interview.”  My dad said “you want that?” and I nodded. . . . not entirely sure what that meant.  My parents and I drove out to Rock Island, Illinois — home of Augustana College — and I had an interview with Mr. Hemming, the Director of Admissions.  It was April or May — around the time of high school graduation.  Mr. Hemming said that the class was full.  And my grades were not great.  But he liked that I was an Eagle Scout so he would find a spot for me.  He said I could be admitted on academic probation.  But if I didn’t have a “C” average first semester, I was out.  So I signed on.  A few months later, I was in college.  My first semester – of 6 courses, I had 5 “C’s” and one “B” (in swimming).  I was in.  The second youngest freshman in my class (I’d skipped 2d grade).

My 45th reunion was this weekend at Augustana.  I went.  First time in 35 years.  I owe Stanley Erickson for a big lesson and Dean Ribbick for things that go unsaid.  And I owe Augustana College for taking a flyer on a just turned 17 year old kid with mediocre grades.  I was given a chance.   It was great to be back.  See old friends.  My fraternity brothers.  And visit. . . my college.