Five friends, one couch, 150 cheese balls

Alumni Housing & Community
June 14, 2024

That year, their last at Denison, their couch had a name. They called it Patch MacDougal.

Patch had — and here you would clear your throat — “character.”

“It was orange plaid, with hints of brown, green, and mustard,” says Frank Ward.

“I think that was real mustard,” Alex Moffat says.

Twenty years have passed since this group of friends — Ward, Moffat, Nic Covey, Phil Palmer, and John Hammond — moved out of their senior year suite on South Quad.

On May 30, 2024, they moved back in for Denison’s Reunion.

You might have thought them an odd mix of students on campus, and they have followed wildly different professional paths since leaving Denison.

At Denison, Covey and Ward were DJs on the student-run radio station. Moffat and Palmer played rugby. Covey, Hammond, and Ward were (and remain) Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers. Ward and Covey led student government, and Moffat served in the student senate. Moffat waited tables at both the Buxton Inn and a nearby Olive Garden. Palmer was a volunteer firefighter in Granville.

Today, Covey, a former Kroger executive, is a vice president of strategic relationships at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Palmer is a newly retired career firefighter pursuing his MBA. Moffat is an actor and comedian who spent six years as a regular on Saturday Night Live. Hammond is the deputy chief of staff for Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb. Ward is a founding partner of the Poplar Group, a public affairs and strategic consulting firm with offices in Austin and Nashville.

They’ve peeked into their old room, Stone 105, occasionally through the years — “sometimes to the current residents’ delight, other times to their confusion,” Covey says — but this is their first chance to make it wholly their own again, if only for the weekend.

The Gentlemen of Stone Hall and their cheese balls 

By Friday morning of Reunion, as they prepare for a 9:40 a.m. tee time at the Denison Golf Club, it already feels as though they never left.

Two of the five are wearing custom “Stone 105” golf shirts. Moffat emerges from one of the bedrooms wearing a thermal undershirt patterned with cherries and raggedly cut into a crop top. His hair appears to have been shocked upright by electricity.

“Why are we doing this so early!” he shouts, brushing his teeth with foaming ferocity.

These five knew each other throughout their time at Denison, but it wasn’t until their senior year that they all moved into Stone 105, a two-bedroom suite with high ceilings, wood floors, and huge, arched windows.

“It felt like the classic college experience,” Covey says.

The room has changed some since they lived here, they say. The kitchen and bathroom were flipped, and the bathroom used to have a tub.

“It served as an extra bed,” Palmer says.

They slip into the fast and easy banter that comes with being friends this long.

They recall how they installed in the room an abandoned arcade-style basketball “pop-a-shot” game that they snagged from a Granville curb and threw into, or maybe on top of, Palmer’s car.

“A ’96 Nissan Pathfinder,” Palmer says. “Gold. Manual transmission. Great car.”

And they reflect on Ward’s creature comforts, including his “legendary” towel warmer.

“Frank’s mother cleaned out the Sharper Image catalog several years running,” Hammond says.

Ward maintains that as a native North Carolinian not accustomed to Ohio winters, this was more necessity than luxury.

They made Room 105 their own. Christmas trees were strictly forbidden, which of course meant they had a finely decorated one stowed in a closet.

They loved the location of their hall, down The Hill. They felt close to the heart of Granville and refined as seniors, entertaining guests with magnum bottles of Yellow Tail merlot and hors d’oeuvres.

“We probably ate 150 port wine cheese balls that year,” Covey says. (Ward disputes this estimate as “far too high.”)

They brought both the Yellow Tail and the cheese balls with them to Reunion, along with Jameson whiskey, the official libation of the Stone 105ers.

This is not an article about Frank’s couch 

But what of Patch MacDougal?

Presumably, Patch — that storied couch Ward and Hammond procured on East Quad for $43 during their first week at Denison — long ago ascended to the great thrift store in the sky.

At the close of senior year, “we had like a two-week long discussion about who was going to take Patch,” Hammond says.

There was talk of hauling Patch to the top of Sugar Loaf Hill for a final Granville sunset, or of giving it a proper burial at sea in Ebaugh Pond.

“I thought that’s what happened,” Moffat says, laughing at the idea that their “dumb couch” was dominating the morning conversation.

“It’s not a dumb couch,” Ward says.

“You’re right,” Moffat says. “It was a very smart couch.”

As Ward remembers it, they watched as Patch was hauled off late in the day of their commencement by the Denison University recycling program, the same program he and Hammond had bought it from four years earlier.

“We think Patch is still out there and has likely provided a respite to many a fortunate Denisonian since,” Ward says.

“This is now an article about Frank’s couch,” Palmer says.

Maybe on the surface it is. But beneath the dated upholstery, it’s a story about that time in your life when you have found your adult self and your first adult friends, and you set off together on whatever comes next. Covey points out that their time at Denison was only the spark of something greater.

As is the case with so many Denison friend groups, the Stone Five didn’t go their separate ways after graduation.

They now have “Stone Fwives” — their words, not ours — with 11 children among them. Ward married Marion, an ’03 alum. Covey was introduced to his wife, Meghan, through a Denison friend. Moffat married Caroline, whose mother, a 1974 Denison grad, was in town for this same Reunion. Palmer married Gwen, an ’04 alum he got to know years after graduation.

Hammond, in a turn of events no one saw coming, married Ward’s sister, Victoria.

The friends have shared milestones and made time for last-minute meet-ups. During one joint 40th birthday celebration along the Pacific coast in 2022, they established and have been paying into a Denison scholarship aimed at students who exhibit the diverse interests and skills of a Denisonian. They hope to have it fully funded in two years, Ward says.

“In the time since we’ve graduated, we’ve had 20 years to go through life’s ups and downs together,” Covey says. “The table was set during our senior year at Denison, but our friendship has really been built since then.

“My wife found some old Denison papers from me, including a card from Frank. The tenor of his card was, ‘I hope we stay in touch.’ It’s 20 years later, and I talk to Frank Ward three times a week now.”

Ward isn’t afraid to say it.

“I think there’s a true, genuine love for one another,” he says. “It’s something I cherish. I can’t imagine my Denison experience without these guys.”

Moffat can’t resist.

“Our friendship has aged,” he says, “like a fine port wine cheese ball.”

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