Big Red Weekend reveals the threads that connect Denisonians

October 6, 2022

Before sending his daughter to college, Stephen Clew ’86 reached into his closet and into his distant past for a keepsake that would bond two generations of Denisonians.

Payton Clew ’24 was handed a gray Denison University sweatshirt that her father had worn during his time on The Hill. The garment was more than 30 years old, and fraying around the neckline and cuffs, but Payton slipped it over her head with the enthusiasm of a first-round pick donning a new jersey on draft night.

“I wear it at least once a week,” she said. “Being from North Carolina, I’m several states away from my parents, so wearing this sweatshirt makes me feel close to them wherever I am, and it reminds me I’m getting a good education just like my dad did here at Denison.”

The Clews were among the legacy families spending time together on campus during the 2022 Big Red Weekend, a three-day celebration of the school’s deep-rooted relationships and connective threads. The university held a Buzzy Bash for Denison Legacies at the Mitchell Center, in which multiple generations gathered to peruse old yearbooks and have their pictures taken with their class banners.

Not every second-generation student has a sweatshirt from their parent’s closet, but there’s a fabric in the shared experience that binds them and never goes out of style.

“This is my favorite weekend of the year,” said Kirstin Heinritz ’92, who flew from Colorado to join her daughter Annie Heinritz ’24 in Granville. “I used to love when my mother would come here and spend time with me, and now I get to do the same with my daughter.” 

Big Red Weekend, a tradition dating to 2008, honors parents, alumni, and friends of the university. This year, organizers spotlighted the opening of the Hoaglin Wellness Center, the history of women’s sports at Denison, and the retirement of a trailblazing professor.

The weekend also saw more legacy families participate in their featured gathering.

“One of the goals of the college is engagement, and who’s more engaged than an alumni parent?” said Susan Stoner Leithauser ’90, senior development officer for Parent and Family Philanthropy.

An estimated 1,200 parents, alumni, and friends of the university roamed the campus, attended special functions and sporting events, and walked down to the village to catch up with old classmates and make new acquaintances.

Ella Jordan ’26 couldn’t get over how much her mother, Susan Tetzlaff Jordan ’87, enjoyed having lunch with six friends at Broadway Pub. Susan said another highlight was attending a Q&A with Denison President Adam Weinberg on Saturday.

“Adam is helping bring about so many positive changes to the university while still managing to keep the right continuity,” Susan Jordan said.

On Friday, the athletic department unveiled a mural at the Mitchell Center paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in schools or educational programs that receive federal funding. Kate Hinshaw ’24, a member of the field hockey team, created the stunning collage that features 200 photos of Denison female athletes past and present. She also contributed to an interactive website that explains who’s in the mural. 

“I just thought blowing up an image like this would be one of the most moving and powerful ways to make a statement on this campus,” Hinshaw said.

On Saturday, the university honored the legacy of Black Studies Professor John L. Jackson, who retired in the spring after 48 years of service. Through his tireless work, Jackson helped Denison adopt a diversity requirement as part of its general education standards in 1979 — a first in American higher education.

“Today has given me an organized time and space to reflect on the changes that have occurred over the last 48 years,” Jackson said. “It’s quite a meaningful day.”

Few alumni enjoyed the weekend more than Ross Servick ’91, who helped expand the Buzzy Bash. His daughter, Delaney Servick ’26, chatted with Annie Heinritz, and the two marveled at the fact both had applied to the same two schools, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, before choosing Denison.

“I just loved the energy on campus,” Delaney said. “I visited here with my mom, and when we went home, I told my dad, ‘I’m going to Denison.’”

Ross Servick supplied one of the weekend’s best stories involving his Sigma Chi fraternity brother Jeffrey Walker ’91. After graduation, the two men discovered that Servick’s mom and Walker’s dad were both single and living in Delray Beach, Florida.

Not long after introducing their parents, the old fraternity brothers became stepbrothers, adding another connective thread that runs through the university.

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