My great friend and former college roommate, Mike Osburn, and I were selected to emcee Delta’s 50th Anniversary dinner Saturday in Oklahoma City. Delta Gamma Sigma is the men’s club to which we belonged at Oklahoma Christian University a very long time ago. And I had a lot more fun writing the material with Ozzy, Chris Adair, and David Bates than I did delivering it. I was honored to be asked to provide the bulk of the entertainment — to tell the stories, to re-hash all the funny lines and remember all the great names — but it stressed me out. It’s a lot of responsibility to entertain 200 men who experience a different three or four year stretch of the same club over five decades. How do you tell a story about something that happened in the ’80s in a way that entertains the guys from the ’70s and the current club members at the same time? How do you make everybody laugh at the same time when they range in age from 18-71?
Traditions. Oral traditions. When the stories get passed down from generation to generation, when each subsequent generation feels like it needs to live up to the proceeding generation, when a uniform language is developed and a standard set of values is ingrained, then the jokes and the one-liners and the more poignant moments are meaningful to everyone.
That’s what makes Delta, Delta. It’s the language and the expectations and the stories.
Everybody in Delta, no matter how old you are or what years you were in the club, has a story about a party you shouldn’t have attended. It was at Ramada Inn or the Heather Ridge apartments or the T-Bar. Or the Wolf Trap or Little Ax Oklahoma. It was a big party and there was fallout. The house party in Choctaw. Or the campout at Stratton’s farm or the Arter place in Lindsey. Every Delta generation had that party. And Doug Hooten was at all of them. Or Scott Steward. Same thing.
Everybody in Delta has the Spring Sing experience. South Pacific and Canine College and Jailbirds. Upperclassmen Cowboys and Robin and the Hoods and the Beetles. We’ve all sung the same songs and danced the same steps. Turns out you can squeeze five decades of sarcastic lyrics and questionable innuendo out of Winter Wonderland. Climbing the walls of Hardeman Auditorium. Riding a motorcycle down the center aisle. Making the only Hispanic member of the club play the Indian chief. Completely throwing in the towel and not even trying since 1997. We’ve all got Spring Sing in common.
And everybody in Delta has the arch nemesis. Dean Cornelius in the ’70s. Dean Mock. Dean Pratt. Tommy Heath. Nancy Inman. Just hearing the names raises the hair on the back of your neck. Robert Stoldt. Dean Tucker. Jeff Bennet. Neil Arter. The American Civil Liberties Union. School of the Plains. The names change, but every Delta generation has its mortal enemy.
There was a lot of laughter and camaraderie in the room Saturday because we all share a brotherhood together. A common experience spread out over 50 years. A common set of values and ideals that revolve around excellence and creativity and camouflage pants. That common language. We all know that Delta’s not for everyone and everyone’s not for Delta. We all know it’s good to be the king. We all know that you don’t shoot Virgil and that Delta’s your daddy and that it just doesn’t matter. And, for the love of Jane, chicks dig Delta.
We all know the club motto: Strength through Unity, Dependability, and Pride — a magnificent accumulation of completely unrelated words that bind together a group of guys who just want to do things their way. Mike and I unveiled a list at the dinner of the top ten rejected early drafts of the timeless Delta motto — “Delta: Your Roommate’s Mother Thinks We’re a Bad Idea,” “What Happens at Lake Murray Stays at Lake Murray,” “Delta: Taking the Curl Out of Stafford North’s Hair,” and “A Wonderful Collection of Poor Decision Makers” among others.
There are lots of things that make Delta unique. Special things. Things that make Delta different from all the other clubs. One of those things is our diversity. Delta always has that great mix. Always has. Straight A students and ninth year juniors in the same club. Superstar athletes and guys who fall out of bed. Guys who are going to be lawyers and guys who are going to need lawyers. Future doctors and teachers and guys who are going to be drains on society. All around the same table.
And our creativity. Delta’s always thinking outside the box. A recent group received chapel credits for several weeks for what they were calling “Food and Fellowship Chapel” before the school shut it down. Good try with “Quiet Meditation in Our Own Beds Chapel” and “Road Trip Chapel.” Great ideas. No other club has ever been charged with “delinquent kudos.” Why doesn’t the prayer before a C-League basketball game against Alpha count as chapel? I think that’s a good question!
Delta’s always been a creative group. Delta’s the group that kicked the tiny defenseless puppy off the stage and into the crowd during that Spring Sing Show. Delta put the blue hippo in the OC pond. Remember when somebody pulled the fire alarm during Spring Sing, right in the middle of Beta’s firefighter show, and they had to evacuate Hardeman auditorium? That was Delta. Delta’s going to shoe polish SNU and then shoe polish OC to frame SNU! The flag at the top of the radio tower? That was Delta. The frog in the microwave in the A dorm lobby? Delta. Every Halloween the trees are filled with underwear and every spring the toilets explode. And it’s always Delta.
The idea Saturday was to just have fun, to catch up with current friends and reconnect with old friends, to tell all the stories and recall all the memories, and to be thankful for the state and federal statute of limitations! We heard from Chester Knight, Delta’s very first president and co-founder of the club back in 1972 — to hear Chester tell the origin story in person is a true gift. He reminded us that it’s better to be a Delta bull than a bum steer. We paid tribute to Brad Robison, the long-time and long-suffering faculty sponsor of Delta. Dave Butts sang his song, Jeff Guthrie passed out commemorative cigars, and I hugged the great Dan Branch.
And I thank God. I thank God there were no cell phone cameras or internet in the ’80s or my friends and I would still be in federal prison. But, much more than that, I thank God for all these great guys he placed in my life almost 40 years ago. The weeks leading up to this anniversary event and the dinner Saturday night have given me opportunity to do some reflection. These men are not the caricatures they can so easily become to others who haven’t seen them since college. Their lives are not defined by the things they did or didn’t do, good and/or bad, in school. In between the gut laughs and the cringy stories, I talked to several of my old friends about divorce and death, about kids and grandkids, about successes and failures in business, about their work in God’s Church, and about what our Lord is doing in their lives. We’ve each expressed humility and gratitude toward one another, and admiration. We’ve prayed. We’ve had meaningful conversations about eternal things. And we’ve marveled together at the grace and mercy and eternal patience of our loving God.
We’ve acknowledged that some of how we were treated by the OC leadership back then was ridiculously absurd and that we certainly didn’t make it easy on them at any time. We can be thankful for the university presidents and deans who were doing their dead-level best to teach us, disciple us in the ways of Christ, and keep us from getting killed. My good friends and I are old enough now and have been through enough to see the big picture of what God is doing in this world and to have a few regrets and to be very thankful.
Thank you to Adair, Ozzy, Bates, Evan, J.D., Steve Bivins, Jimmy Arter, Brad Myers, Dobson, and Al Branch for planning the Delta 50th anniversary events of last weekend. Let’s do it again next year!