Since this is the beginning, let us state this: There are rules. At an institution where young people are away from home for the first time, there must be guidelines established. For example: don’t sit on the roof of campus buildings. But this is college. College kids like to have fun, and what’s more fun than sitting on a roof when you’re not supposed to? The stories included in this feature might make the Office of Residence Life cringe. But we figured since the Lodges are about to be demolished, so is the statute of limitations.
On to the fraternities. In the early 1940s, then-governor of Virginia, Colgate Darden LL.D. ’46, asked the General Assembly to abolish fraternity houses at state-supported institutions of higher learning as living places for students as a guard against “social exclusiveness and snobbery.” So the William & Mary Board of Visitors created the Lodge plan, similar to those in operation at Davidson, Sewanee and Swarthmore. This plan was adopted in the belief that such a system would eliminate competitive fraternity housing and would prevent the development of social exclusiveness on campus. The plan would allow fraternities to reduce dues and excessive initiation fees, and therefore make membership fall within reach of every student who desired it.
According to the October 1948 issue of the Alumni Gazette, the fraternities, newly reorganized after the war, fought this decision hard. But as the Lodges began to take shape, there was a change in attitude towards the plan. “The mutterings of discontentment became mute and here and there could be heard voices of appreciation and pleasure,” it says in the Gazette. “The bitter pill became a bonbon. Not only are the Lodges things of beauty and utility, but, in a valiant effort to ‘play ball’ with the boys, the administration has drawn extremely liberal social and financial regulations to govern the use of the Lodges.”
For Ron Stewart ’70, his first visit to a lodge was in the spring of 1966 when he visited William & Mary on a wrestling recruiting trip. After watching the spring football game, his escort took him and his date to the Sigma Nu Lodge to attend their party, which Stewart remembers as a wild affair as the end of spring football signaled a need for the Sigma Nu players to blow off some steam.
Stewart says his time spent in the Lodges were some of the most memorable of his college career. He remembers being initiated into Thelta Delta Chi in 1966 and sitting in front of the fireplace in Lodge 2 with his fellow pledges as various liquids were hurled in their direction. “We were then carried out of the lodge and unceremoniously tossed into Crim Dell to be cleaned off,” says Stewart.
As a part-time job, Stewart worked for Jimmy Seu and Ed O’Connell, who owned the Colonial Restaurant (until recently the Green Leafe Cafe). Every Sunday morning, Stewart would borrow O’Connell’s old station wagon and drive through the Lodges collecting the empty beer kegs to return them to the Colonial. “Ed paid me $1 for each empty keg returned so on a good Sunday morning I could earn a quick 10 bucks — which went a long way in 1968.”
Over the next two years, Stewart remembers many weekend parties where the room was so crowded it was impossible to dance. “Everyone was crowded into a relatively small place, jostling each other as music blared, and after building up a good sweat you could step out on the back porch, only steps away, to cool off,” says Stewart. “All that was lost when we moved into the brand new fraternity complex where we partied in the vast expanse of what felt like the open basement of a dormitory — which is what it was. The intimacy was gone. We did continue to use the cleansing powers of Crim Dell, however.”
For Stewart, his favorite memories from life in the Lodges were trips down to the Crim Dell to throw someone in the water. “Since it was done to us as pledges, we felt we had to keep that tradition alive,” says Stewart. “Any infraction — real or imagined — was reason enough for three or four brothers to administer the punishment. There probably isn’t a Theta Delt of my generation that escaped at least one dunking.”
THE FACULTY YEARS
John Conlee has had some great offices in his nearly 50 years at William & Mary — he claims his current one, the South Outhouse, is without equal, but he loved his years in Lodge 10, where the large bedroom served as his office. It had a private bathroom, including a shower, and Conlee would often play tennis at 7 a.m. on the old Adair courts, then shower in his office and be ready to teach by 9:30. The living room of the lodge was his classroom, just 10 steps away. In the summer, Conlee would sometimes take a break from writing and sit out on the deck and read novels.
After fraternities moved out of the Lodges and into new housing in the late 1960s, the buildings served as classrooms and faculty offices, and many professors like Conlee worked and taught in the spaces. To the many staff that remained in normal academic buildings, it seemed like banishment to the edge of campus. But the ones fated to work in the Lodges saw it differently.
“Most of the English Department offices at that time were on the third floor of the Wren Building, and those of us relegated to the Lodges were considered by many of our colleagues to be somewhere in the outer orbits,” says Conlee. “But we loved it and considered ourselves extremely fortunate. I feel quite nostalgic about Lodge 10 and rue its impending demise.”
When Bob Scholnick began his time at William & Mary in 1967, he was in one of those offices on the third floor of the Wren. He could look out and see the Capitol from one window and then go to another window and look across the Sunken Garden. He felt he had arrived someplace special.
But sharing the office with two colleagues made it difficult to concentrate on his own scholarship, class preparation or meeting with students. “After a few years when I was assigned to a former fraternity lodge, I had mixed feelings,” Scholnick says. “Was I being exiled to the remote reaches of the campus? Or was this a place that would enable me to work productively?”
Bob Fehrenbach, Bob Maccubbin and Bob Scholnick were all assigned offices in one of the Lodges. Each had a private office and shared a telephone. That made for some confusion, especially when the phone rang and someone asked to speak with Bob.
But Scholnick found the Lodge worked well as a classroom. “That very off-beat quality could stimulate creative approaches to learning, “ he says. “After a while, I came to view my exile from the Wren Building as a special opportunity to write and research, to teach, and to meet with students,” Scholnick continues. “I realize how fortunate I was early in my career to share the building with two Bobs and some extraordinary students. I did some of my best teaching of American literature in a former fraternity lodge. I’m almost tempted to say that I’ll drink to that — but not with students and certainly not in an academic building.”
“It seems to be the trend when you put seven 22-year-olds under one roof for a year, foolish and dangerous games tend to be invented,” says Adam Gismondi ’05. “We fit within that lineage.”
Gismondi lived in Lodge 8 during his senior year at William & Mary. Gismondi and his roommates dubbed Lodge 8 “The Ocho,” a reference to the movie “Dodgeball” and in recognition of the fact that they had an unofficial eighth resident that would use their lodge as a break room between classes.
One of Gismondi’s roommates was into rock climbing, and shortly after they moved in, this particular roommate hung rock climbing practice grips from the wooden beams that stretched above the central room. “Over the months, this feature of the Lodge led to many of us using the grips out of habit, and it eventually led to a most vicious game that can only be compared to American Gladiators matches of the late 1980s,” says Gismondi. “It involved each participant hanging from an individual grip and trying to kick down their opponent; matches routinely lasted less than 10 seconds.”
By October, the group turned the Lodge into a Haunted House for charity. “In doing so, we violated countless rules and drove our RA to usher in a new era in which his sole request was knowing when to avoid the Lodge,” says Gismondi.
They also had a drummer in the Lodge with a penchant for unannounced band practices on weekend mornings. According to Gismondi, “From a distance, the situation was funny and enjoyable (you could hear the band from the Sunken Garden), but up close, once you heard the amps plug in, all you felt was anguish.”
Other Lodges throughout the years were not immune to the same type of shenanigans that went down in the Ocho.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our Lodge’s greatest contribution to society,” says one anonymous Lodge resident. “The game of Fruit Cutter. The game of Fruit Cutter was determined by the state of fruit inside the Lodge. As it rotted, games drew closer. The game was simple. Players would take the spoiled fruit to the front of the Lodge (for public viewing) and stand on opposite sides of the front lawn. Players would also have large knives, and when it was your turn to have fruit thrown in your direction, your objective was to slice it mid-air. We believe a game developer watched one of our rounds and created the international smartphone app phenomenon ‘Fruit Ninja,’ but we have no proof. Sometimes, speculation is enough.”
Sometimes just getting placed into a lodge requires some shenanigans. Ron Stewart’s daughter, Megan Stewart Bowder ’98, had the opportunity to live in a lodge when one of her friends was selected to be an RA in Lodge 12. Since no one else among her group had a great housing lottery number, they actually “campaigned” to get placed in the same lodge, mailing fliers to rising seniors that said, “Just say no to Lodge 12.”
Marjorie Lee ’98 topped off an amazing time at W&M by living in Lodge 4 her senior year. She recently ran a half marathon that took her right past it in the homestretch into Zable Stadium.
“I was sad to hear they’re being knocked down but I know things can’t stay the same forever. I’m impressed when I go back to campus and see the improvements since the ’90s. I trust that the William & Mary community continues to make the right decisions to continue to move the school into the future.”
This summer, the Lodges will be demolished to make way for an integrative wellness center. (The Daily Grind will remain.) The McLeod Tyler Wellness Center will house the four departments that make up the thematic area of health and wellness in student affairs: the Student Health Center, the Counseling Center, Health Promotion and the wellness components of Campus Recreation. The new wellness center will play a key role in helping students maintain healthy minds and lifestyles.
The university is moving forward. But even after they’re gone, the Lodges will continue to conjure up memories in alumni from all eras as they recall the friendships established inside Lodge walls.
“On a campus full of quirks (architecturally and socially), the Lodges were yet another beloved oddity,” says Gismondi. “A series of mini-cabins that served as one-year homes for the friendships you had formed over your years. They allowed you to live with a group of friends before scattering around the country.”
“Some of my closest friends today are guys I met at the Lodge, partied with at the Lodge, went to or participated in their weddings and got to meet their children later in life,” says Stewart. “I developed a bond with those guys stronger than with anyone who I ever lived next door to in a dorm or with whom I went to class.”
As the Lodges are torn down to make way for the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center, the university has set aside some memorable keepsakes for purchase so you can always remember your home away from home. Please contact Yvonne Phelps-Bey at email@example.com for more information. All proceeds from the sales will benefit the Residence Life Fund.