More on the history of Gamma Epsilon

 

9 Jews and Me - Roy Huffman

I am writing to share my fraternity recollection triggered after reading Brother Ken Cohen's Gamma Epsilon start-up history.

From the first time that I met Ken in 1961, I considered him to be of a very special cut. I have tremendous respect for him; a respect that continues to grow. What is amazing is that as a teenager in college, he wrote, talked and thought just like his history recap reads. He always had a knack for understanding the importance of the big picture and the roles necessary to accomplish.

I have not shared my college days with many. Having recently paid off my last college loan, I thought I would venture forth with this note.

I recall, as a struggling freshman living in the dormitory, being approached by a couple of guys asking if I wanted to join a fraternity. Other fraternities had approached me, but I had no desire to join. (Truth of the matter was that I had no money to join.)

I never asked Ken why I was approached. Although I seem to recall seeing a long tattered list that had many names already scratched off. I have oft wondered if I was the last choice. I could understand why I would be last, because I looked like I had just fallen off a turnip truck. That’s because I had just fallen off a turnip truck. All of this goes to show that it is sometimes more important to be in the game than to worry about how you got there. Once in I just worked to move forward.

Ken and Brother Kieve Pearlman gave me quite a spiel about why I should join them in establishing a nonsectarian social fraternity. (To this day I still do not know what those two have against secretaries.) Ken explained that he was not welcome at most of the fraternities on campus. He had decided to start a nonsectarian fraternity. He wanted to leave a heritage supporting the position that prejudice has no place on a college campus. They had many convincing arguments regarding why they were starting the fraternity. But the question remained - why should I join?

In trying to answer my own question: I think I joined because two very different people raised me. One a very strong and dominant female and one a quiet, hard working male. I have always credited my mother for my primary upbringing. My parents raised me not to judge. My father always taught that I could pick my friends, but I could not pick my relatives. I tended to take him at his word. Skin/religion/height/gender/education/money/looks did not matter. If I like you and you me, then we can be friends. More of a heart to heart and mind to mind basis. Fortunately, I have always had the ability to ignore biases, which is good because so much seems to exist. (Being short, loud, from small town West Virginia, not the sharpest knife in drawer, not rich, etc. - made me an easy target.) So it appeared that Ken, Kieve and I were in agreement that life should be void of prejudice. They had convinced me that they were sincere in what they were setting out to accomplish and they needed a gentile in order to achieve. Thus the token gentile came to be.

I joined Ken Cohen, Marty Sigel, Kieve Pearlman, Paul Mayer, Bob Kunis, Barry Cohen, Marvin Bobes, Mike Lerner, and Mike Rossman to form the Beta Tau Club. (Geez, I hope I got the ten right.) 9 Jews and Me had set off to experience the adventure of a lifetime.

As an aside, Ken and others showed their chutzpah by convincing Zeta Beta Tau to affiliate with us. I have oft wondered how that first headquarters meeting must have gone when our nomination was introduced. Most ZBT chapters had no gentiles. I also believe that our success had a significant impact on the direction ZBT national eventually took.

To most, nonsectarian meant religion and to a large part I suppose that is what it represented to us at the time. But sectarian also means not having a narrow scope of character. I have always believed Ken's goal was much broader than religion. I certainly did not understand Judaism, Catholicism, or Christianity. I probably still do not today. But I did understand when people meant to take an action to try to make this world a better place to live. To me this was why Beta Tau Colony was formed.

I liked the fact that we were going to strive to be community oriented, academically driven and socially active all while having a positive, proactive campus impact. The intent was to serve as a character building experience for each of us. We worked hard to honor our community obligations. We were very active in the Huntington community proving to the citizens of Huntington that Marshall students did appreciate them. We wanted to lead the Greeks academically and have our parents understand that we knew why they sent us to college. (As I recall we set the academic bar very high.) We wanted to learn how others conducted their lives. Not just from a religious perspective, but from all perspectives. This objective was far exceeded. Brotherhood is a great term for defining what we became. And we wanted to have fun. This too we may have exceeded. I don't recall as I was usually at the library studying. (My memory is slipping, but I do think Marshall had a library, so I stand behind my statement.) Although I do remember seeing some mighty short Toga's at a party or two.

I am proud of the fact that when we departed Marshall we had accomplished the established objectives. We had walked the talk. We had gained the respect of the campus. And this gaining of respect was not by accident, but through hard work. Most other social fraternities seemed to be committed to image. They may have looked better than we did, but they did not come close when it came to delivering results.

Of course, it all boils down to the people involved in the endeavor as to whether or not it will succeed. I was only involved with the fraternity for the first couple of years. I worked 40 hours per week at a factory, and I was fortunate enough to marry the most beautiful woman on campus. Linda delivered the first Gamma Epsilon legacy - Donald Kieve Huffman. (See above for naming rights.)

Fortunately, there were many talented others involved in this endeavor. One of the smartest and most talented people that I have ever had the privilege to know is Brother Michael Lerner. He did not seem to recognize just how talented that he was. He carried 19-21 hours per semester. (14 was heavy for me.) He was a talented musician that shocked the campus when he led us scalawags to a Mother’s Day trophy. A victory we savored as other fraternities registered complaints that we may have skirted a rule or two. We still have the trophy. In his spare time he became the campus ping-pong champion all while being one heck of great fraternity brother with a mind-boggling GPA. When I was building teams for my employer I always worked hard to find a "Mike Lerner". (Oh by the way, the ZBT sign in the picture was hand-made by Brother Lerner.)

The "getting organized" times are blurry because we spent a year or so as the Beta Tau Colony. But I think the second Gamma Epsilon president was Catholic Jan Blumer. When I said this group of young men walked the talk, I meant it. Gamma Epsilon became a success. We were individuals committed to bonding and banding together to accomplish an agreed to set of objectives.

If permitted to digress one final time, I want to share my "Ess & Fress" experience with you. As I recall we needed money to fund our various community projects. Someone came up with the idea of having an "Ess & Fress" fund raising event. I believe "Ess" means eat and "Fress" means eat ravenously. The drawing point would be that this would be a 100% Kosher meal. Novel idea for a "Jewish" fraternity. We would prepare a meal for Marshall's campus like they had never experienced. (Or for that matter, would ever experience again.)

Brother Tony Broh's family purchased a huge hunk of corned beef for us. Tony's mother agreed to cook it if we would come by and help. A couple of days later this huge hunk of meat had shrunk to almost nothing. I knew then that we were in trouble. We moved forward because we had sold many tickets in advance of this great meal. The meal was wonderful, but, alas, our project was not a financial success. (It would have been labeled a financial disaster, but I think the Broh's forgot to charge us for the meat.)

Next year we decided not to have this event. I asked if the gentile could take a swing at it. One of the wonderful things about this group of people - "no" was not an overly used word. This next "Ess & Fress" was very successful. We had a great turnout, most likely due to the meal they had experienced the year before. But the only thing Kosher about this meal was the pickle. Everyone thought it was as good as the previous year. We made a lot of money.

When I reflect back on my fraternity days I recall many lessons learned. I will share some of these with you.

  • Lesson learned - do not confuse selling with installing. Sell the people what they want and deliver what they need.
  • Lesson learned - set your goals high, work hard, have a plan, never forget your objective and have fun. This formula continues to work for me to this day.
  • Lesson learned - when given a choice of having a 100-member team or a handpicked ten-person team - always take the ten. I truly believe that if a small group of dedicated, committed and intelligent people set their mind to do something then it can be accomplished. I am proud of the minor miracles accomplished during my college days.
  • Lesson learned - if human beings receive encouragement and recognition they actually will believe that they can sing.
  • Lesson learned - the world is full of two types of people: those that are results oriented and those that are image oriented. Ask each person who they are and 90% will say results-oriented. 90% of this 90% are kidding themselves. Throughout life, if you can distinguish which is which, you will have the upper hand in any situation. We were so fortunate from the beginning through our initial pledge classes to have all result-oriented brothers.
  • Lesson learned - reach for what you want. When we moved into the house we had a goal of having at least a couple of guests per month over for dinner. We had the University President, Deans, prominent professors, Miss USA, potential pledges and just about anyone else that someone decided to drag in off the street. Most of the other fraternities did not invite these people because they assumed that they would not come or that they were not good enough to be invited or they feared rejection. We allowed the invitees to decide. It was amazing how many people came to dinner. Know the rules. Know your place. Trust your instincts. Play by the rules. Defend your position.
  • Lesson learned - Life is simple; life is good. Enjoy.

I learned that small groups can make a difference. I believe that we had an impact on Marshall’s Greek system, on ZBT national, on Marshall University and to a smaller degree on the city of Huntington. We had pride, leadership and commitment. We had a plan and we executed. We probably were not smart enough to know that it could not be done - so we did it.

All in all, I was very fortunate to be affiliated with such an outstanding set of individuals during a very formative time of my life. Thank you to Ken Cohen, Kieve Pearlman, Paul Mayer and others for choosing me to be your friend and brother. Thank you for helping me establish a platform that has worked well for my family and me throughout life. I became friends with some of the most brilliant and interesting people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

While I personally know few of you, I am proud and impressed that one-third of you contribute to the scholarship fund. This can only mean that we continued to recruit people of good character who understand giving back is more important than receiving. Of course, I would like to see this number grow to 50%. J

Sincerely,

Brother Roy Huffman - Beta Tau Colony Founder - Gamma Epsilon Chapter Founder

 

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