A Cappella Brotherhood
Beth Wexler returned home from the hospital in March 1987 after delivering her first child, in need of some rest and tranquility.
The presence of the Denison Hilltoppers singing in her suburban Cincinnati basement did not qualify on either count.
The new mom knew how much the monthly gatherings of the Hilltoppers — Denison’s only all-male a cappella group — meant to her husband, Bill Wexler ’79, and the boys. But if ever there were an excuse to postpone, Beth figured the arrival of the couple’s first child would be it.
“She wasn’t happy,” recalled Wexler, a member of the original Hilltoppers in 1978. “I told her, ‘Maybe it’s a good thing for our first child to hear To Denison this young. Maybe he will wind up going to Denison one day.”
Eighteen years later, Bryan Wexler ’09 enrolled at the university. His brother, Andrew ’10, joined him on The Hill a year later.
Some of the Hilltoppers have been meeting at the Wexler residence almost monthly for 36 years.
“It’s mostly alumni from the Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, area, and the cast of characters has changed over the years,” Wexler says. “We usually get anywhere from four to 10 members, and the ages range from 19 to 66. Gabe Donnelly ’25, a current Hilltopper, joins us when he can.”
The Hilltoppers gather to drink “tuning fluid” before singing in the basement and eating a meal that’s often prepared by Beth.
“We’re here to support each other,” Wexler says. “We’ve had Hilltoppers pass away, and we’ve had videographers record songs that were played at memorial services. When the child of a Hilltopper gets married, we’ll sing at the reception.”
In death as in life, Augustus Morgan McCravey ’12 unites people for a good cause. The 11th annual AMM Golf Weekend drew more than 30 players in support of the Augustus Morgan McCravey Memorial Scholarship.
McCravey, a gregarious and perpetually optimistic student, died July 5, 2011, as a result of a fall while in Spain. A communication major, McCravey was the most “inclusive person” that his friends knew. “He had a way of connecting people from all walks of life,” says Abe Freidin ’13. “The longevity of the event is a testament to his special character.”
Among McCravey’s many passions was golf. That’s why alums and friends of the Denison Phi Delta Theta chapter started an annual tournament at Denison Golf Club in his honor. The scholarship is awarded to a Denison student from Georgia or Tennessee — “Gus” was a Chattanooga native — with financial need. Freidin says, “We’re looking to attract the next generation of golfers to keep supporting the event.”
As their 40th reunion concluded, attending members of the Beta Theta Pi Class of 1957 made a promise to each other. “We decided we shouldn’t wait another 10 years to get together,” Peter Armacost says.
Making good on their pledge, the fraternity brothers started meeting annually, with members acting as revolving hosts. They got together in Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, as well as Sun Valley, Idaho, and Charleston, South Carolina.
“We had 19 Betas in my graduating class,” Armacost says. “We were a close class, but as we began getting together more often, I gained so much respect for what these guys had accomplished in life and the impacts they had made.”
In 2019, eight surviving members reunited at the Granville Inn. The group, which met again two years later in Philadelphia, is down to four.
“We had never previously discussed whether it would be the last time we’d see each other,” Armacost says of the Granville meetup. “That was the first time it entered the conversation. We’re so glad we’ve had these times together.”
Alicia Henry ’05 calls them “life- changing moments,” and when it comes to her closest friends from Denison, she doesn’t want to miss them. Her group of alums loves to gather for weddings, baby showers, and new jobs.
“We talk a lot about having transitioned from being kids at college to having kids in the real world,” says Henry, a mother of three and the president of Denison’s Black Alumni Association.
Her friends have traveled across the country in support of each other. New Orleans, Washington, D.C., New York, Columbus. “We’re still very close almost 20 years later,” she says. “We’re always looking for that next moment to celebrate.”
Raising their glasses, while some stay upturned
For 14 years now, members of the Delta Upsilon fraternity class of 1973 have gathered at Phil Jacobs’ lake house to revel and reminisce.
These friendships began more than 50 years ago, and at this point, only one thing will break them. Proof of that are the two shot glasses — Jacobs had a number of glasses personalized for frequent attendees — that now remain unused and upturned during the gatherings at Lake Keowee, South Carolina.
They belonged to Tony Gilene and A.T. Payne.
“When we lost Tony two years ago, we started a tradition of drinking a toast and having a little ceremony to honor our fallen comrades,” Jacobs says. Shortly after, they lost Payne.
The lakeside tributes are heartfelt but not meant to cast a pall over the gatherings, which have grown over the years from a long weekend to as many as six days.
They break out fraternity and Denison memorabilia of all sorts — even an old mailbox pulled from Slayter — and hang a Denison flag on the back porch. They share life updates and relive memories.
“We all have different things that we remember,” Jacobs says. “The other great thing is that everybody has a different memory, and in some cases, conflicting memories.”
Just a keystroke away
Today’s technology has made it easier than ever for Denison alums to remain in contact after graduation. No snail mail or expensive long-distance phone calls required. Sam Rice ’19 and seven friends embody the immediacy of connectivity.
The eight have been part of the same text chain since Rice’s sophomore year. And because they’re also gamers, they stay connected through Discord, an instant messaging platform.
“We’ve been in touch from the day we left campus,” Rice says. “We’ll share thoughts or memes or videos or news. Hardly a day goes by when we aren’t talking. We do get together on occasion, but the text chain allows us to communicate all the time. It’s so convenient.”
Boys of summer
A love of baseball and Denison have united seven alums in a fantasy league that’s nearly 30 years old. The group has traveled the U.S. for its annual draft, with hopes of taking it to Vietnam — home of Keith Schultz ’91 — in the near future.
“Each spring, we get together and spend too much time acting like we are in our 20s again,” says Bill Knapp ’90.
Knapp was invited to join a random fantasy league in 1992. As other members dropped out, he began recruiting fellow Denison alums he got to know while living in Columbus, Ohio, after graduation. “We didn’t run in the same circles on campus,” Knapp says, “and there was every opportunity for us to lose touch, but this league prevented that from happening.”
The Pure Prairie League as it’s called — credit to David Gillies ’91 for the homage to the country rock band with Ohio roots — also includes Todd Lawlor ’91 in New York, Teall Edds ’91 in Singapore, Jim Comeaux ’90 in Columbus, and Joe Leithauser ’90 in Granville. Two other members are siblings of Denison alums.
“We have become good friends,” Knapp says. “We have been to each other’s weddings, and I’ve been there for the births of several guys’ kids.”
The Big Gut
If the Cal Cup could speak, oh, what stories it could tell. It’s been dropped, it’s been dented, it’s lived a harder life than members of the Rolling Stones. And each year, Beta Theta Pis from the class of ’85 can’t wait to get their hands (and names) on it.
Such is the allure of the Mo Gutridge Tournament, aka The Big Gut. The fraternity brothers have been participating in the annual event since 2002. Held in the fall, the alums have gathered at golf courses across the country, and even in Ireland, for the right to win the Cal Cup — named for Cal O’Callaghan, an original tournament organizer who died of cancer.
“One time somebody dropped the Cup, and someone says, ‘You ruined the thing,’” Dave Watt ’85 recalls. “But the rest of us agreed it looked better.”
The event usually attracts about 12 fraternity brothers. The tournament is named for a former Denison staff member, Maurice Gutridge, who worked in the chemistry department cleaning the equipment — “a colorful character,” Watt says, “who used to allow our fraternity to gather for bonfires at his farm outside of Granville.”
Friends then & now
The first reunions of this group of ’61 Denisonians and their spouses started not long after graduation. They were geared toward winter pursuits and held in Lake Tahoe partly out of practicality; Charlie Glasser ’61 and his brother owned a motel there.
“We were younger then,” says Richard Lee Mathias ’ 61. “Most of us could ski. Somewhat.”
As the years passed, the annual events moved around to other outdoorsy locations: to Bend, Oregon; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; and northern Wisconsin. Last year they met east of Spokane, Washington. Sometimes, as many as 25 attendees fly and drive in from all corners of the country.
“We talk about old times and new times as well, about our kids and the world at large,” Mathias says. “We were friends there at Denison, and still are.”
Connecting different eras
Whether it’s virtual meetings or in-person gatherings, Denison Pride: The LGBTQ+ and Ally Alumni Association is connecting members of the community with greater frequency. The steering committee for the group, which has an email list of 150, meets regularly by Zoom to plan events.
Alums and allies have twice held gatherings in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod in 2016 and 2018. They’ve also connected virtually for events such as Drag Bingo in 2023.
Patrick Hewitt ’10, events chair, said excitement is building for an on-campus reunion next year celebrating the 35th anniversary of the organization’s founding. More than 50 alums, allies, and family members attended the 30th anniversary.
“People left with such a positive feeling,” Hewitt said. “Some people who showed up hadn’t come out when they were going to school at Denison. So, these events build connections that otherwise might not form between different eras.”
Rocky Mountain Way
Denver might not be the first city that springs to mind when discussing high concentrations of Denison alums. Columbus, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., often top the lists.
But the Mile High City and its abundance of outdoor beauty and activities surrounding it are growing in popularity for those looking to relocate.
“It’s a mecca for young grads, and they stay,” says Laura Frame ’83, director of principal gifts at Denison and the mother of daughter Taylor ’14, who lives in Denver.
Denison-sponsored events are held multiple times a year, says George Gastis ’92, who moved to Colorado in 1995 with his wife, Laura Lee Deters ’91. The events attract between 20 and 40 alums, including a spring 2023 meeting with President Adam Weinberg.
Gastis is part of a group of eight to 10 Denisonians who get together annually to ski and snowboard. Meanwhile, a younger collection of alums also gather. Several members of the men’s 2011 NCAA championship swim team, including Carlos Maciel ’14, Eric Fisher ’14, Spencer Fronk ’14, Mike DeSantis ’12, and Callan Hetterich ’11, have helped turn Denver into Denison West. Marciel noted that four former women’s soccer players live in the region.
“It’s great having so many of us out here,” he says.
Six women, one bathroom, endless antics
They crossed paths during their first year in 1990. By their senior year, Jane (Haller) Glennon ’94, Claire (Mackey) Thompson ’94, Nancy (Crane) Mullally ’94, Carrie (Latimer) Miller ’94, Janey (Martin) Hoag ’94, and Abby (Claggett) Dougherty ’94 were sharing a suite in Beaver Hall.
“Six women, one bathroom, one common room, and endless antics that we still retell to this day,” Dougherty says.
They agreed to gather every year after graduation. Sometimes the reunions are tied to major life events like weddings, four of which were to fellow Denisonians. They’ve met in Hilton Head, North Carolina, the Florida Keys, Nashville, Miami, and Austin. And they made a point to visit every suitemate’s home city.
“And 33 years after meeting as Denison freshmen, this year we’re headed back to where it all started, with plans to gather in Granville in the fall,” Dougherty says.
“WO is the glue”
Among The Denison Singers, he is known as “WO.” Pronounced “whoa.” It is shorthand for Professor Emeritus William Osborne, who founded the organization of chamber singers in 1961. The group was a Denison institution until Osborne’s retirement in 2003, and that long run means generations of alums with a deep respect for their mentor and a shared interest in song that has not waned.
His retirement now two decades behind him, Osborne remains involved. He logs in for regular Zoom calls with alums and returns to conduct The Denison Singers reunion concerts in Granville that draw dozens of past members, many who attended Denison decades apart.
“WO — Dr. Osborne — is the center of it all,” says Valerie Bertoglio ’69. Osborne credits the continued life of the Singers to both Denison’s size and the nature of music performance. “It’s the kind of creative process that fosters this intimacy and collegiality,” he says. That so many of these friendships formed post-Denison was a wonderful and unexpected development for the Singers.
“I have many friends now who I never knew when I was at Denison because they were either before me or after me,” Bob Palmer '73 says. “We realized we had all had a very similar experience in the Singers, a binding and pleasurable experience. And WO is the glue.”
From The Hill to the Dolomites
If you’re going to backpack 30 miles over four days in the Italian Dolomites, you’d best pick your companions wisely.
Inbar Scharf, Anna Farrell, Hannah Wertheimer, and Beth Neville, all 2013 graduates, stay in touch almost daily but remain committed to in-person reunions — and for those events, they go big. Scharf lives in Israel, and it’s nice to have three friends willing to cross the Atlantic for a rendezvous.
Only two of the four had backpacked before their September 2022 Dolomites trek, and Scharf says the experience reinforced how close they all have remained.
Where will the next big trip be? If Scharf has to guess, they’ll be headed to Finland; Farrell is moving there.
“It really feels like, even 10 years later, that I’m just as involved in their lives, and they’re just as involved in mine,” Scharf says. Whenever they are together, she says, “we feel like college roommates again.”