By Nelson Farris
Life’s a beach…at Long Beach State anyway. A band of ’60s brothers, Sigma Pi alumni from the Beta Omicron chapter, have gotten together every year for over half a century to celebrate their friendship and brotherhood. These days it is a year-end, black tie formal-only gala event in commemoration of their fraternity’s annual “Orchid Ball” and those memories as undergrads.
How did this fifty-year affair begin? After Sigma Pi Fraternity brother and professional dancer Bobby Burgess—of Disney’s original Mickey Mouse Club fame—began regular appearances on the Lawrence Welk television show with live performances during each summer in South Lake Tahoe, a whim brought a small group of recent graduates together to cheer on Brother Burgess. Sitting in the front row for the Saturday night late show, they were more noticeably boisterous than the normal Welk crowd, much to the delight of the entertainers, including Welk himself. The tradition of getting together each year had begun.
After a decade of Tahoe shows, the venue changed to locations throughout California, Oregon, Arizona and even Mexico. Each year finds the brothers and their wives (or significant others) eager to see one another to catch up on new stories and events, and together, see all the sites at the new location. The new millennium changed the venue yet again, by greeting this milestone when it arrived—New Year’s Eve. And that’s the way it has been ever since.
Fifty plus years of close friendship and fellowship seem more significant than accomplishment. Comprised of many professional pursuits—businessmen and executives, entrepreneurs, salesmen, entertainers, educators, political figures, attorneys, physicians and contractors—each experiences a deep connection from college days at Long Beach State as a member of Sigma Pi that has lasted throughout their adult life.
This year’s event was held on the beach in La Jolla at the beautiful La Jolla Shores Hotel. Long Beach State grads are right at home at the beach. The group photograph brought back memories of volleyball, surfing, beach parties, boating, fishing, playing for or rooting for Long Beach State teams, and coastal living while going to college at “The Beach.”
A warm welcome party at the hotel preceded a Sunday tour (led by a jet fighter pilot brother) of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, followed by walks on the beach, golf, shopping and impromptu gatherings.
Finally, the big night arrives and to kick it off, each brother marched in holding a life-size cutout of his graduation picture from the Long Beach State Prospector yearbook and a red rose that he presented to his lady.
Following a sumptuous meal, the brothers were entertained with a floor show that included a dance by Brother Bobby Burgess and a song by the Singin’ Slicks, a group rejuvenated by the event committee from the ’60s.
The New Year finally arrives and with it, a tradition that has become even more memorable with each passing year. The brothers form a circle to sing the Sigma Pi “Fireside Song,” just like they did in college. The lyrics now mean even more to them, with somber moments of reflection recalling brothers who have passed away. “…the circle changes with the years, the brothers come and disappear….”
After so many years these brothers consider themselves fortunate to have joined Sigma Pi when they did, in the ’60s, and that they continue to have a bond that has been lost by so many others. Fifty years of brotherhood—unique and quite extraordinary.
Nelson Farris (1969, B.A., speech communication) is senior director of Culture & Heritage–Global Talent Management for Nike Inc.
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