I am not overly sentimental, but sometimes an event is so extraordinary that it makes me stop to think about what made me the person I am today.
Recently, I attended a reunion of the members of my college fraternity (Omega Chapter of Zeta Beta Tau) who pledged the fraternity at the University of Missouri between 1960 and 1967. About 60 of us spent the weekend together, which included attending Missouri’s football game against Texas A&M in Columbia, Mo. It was a moving experience.
Let’s set the scene. This was a gathering of middle and upper-middle class Jewish men in their early and mid-60’s. It was a collection of doctors, lawyers and successful businessmen who shared the formative years of their life at 915 Richmond in Columbia.
The weekend was nothing short of extraordinary. I hadn’t seen most of my brothers in 40 years. Many of us had dinner together Friday night in St. Louis, took a chartered bus to the game where we all sat together (except Harvey Eisen, who is a big giver to the university and sat with the president and chancellor in a special box), and then had dinner together in a private room at the Alumni Center before taking the charter back to St. Louis (some who came from Kansas City drove home separately).
The stories we all told at the two dinners would make a good movie (actually the screen play for the movie "Animal House" took a lot of its inspiration from the ZBT chapter at Washington University in St. Louis, and the script for the movie "Revenge of the Nerds" was written by a ZBT from my own chapter).
We bonded that weekend in a way no one thought possible. We remembered how zany and wonderful our time together had been when we were 18, 19, 20 and 21. And we remembered what an extraordinary influence that time had been on the rest of our lives. We learned to be part of a team, to share our hopes and dreams, to have fun and to achieve.
Today many of us are grandfathers but our memories of those years today were vivid, funny and for the sessions that included wives and girlfriends, a little off color. We all realized that we had matured greatly during our years together in college and that being part of something special had given meaning to our lives in later years.
I, for one, honestly believe that I would never have had the self-confidence to ultimately run for public office if I had not spent those four college years learning valuable lessons about what it means to be a part of something greater than myself. ZBT at the University of Missouri was a widely respected institution. My fraternity brothers never took themselves too seriously but we all quickly learned how to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
The 1960's were a magical time for ZBT at the University of Missouri. We elected one of our members (the late Harvey Kantor) student body president. Our membership included starters on the Missouri football and baseball teams. We twice won the campus-wide quiz bowl competition (the first with a team of four skinny sophomores by the names of Rosenbaum, Stine, Mendelson and Frost and the second time with a team anchored by Steve Hochman who is today former President Carter’s principal aide at the Carter Center in Atlanta).
We had brothers who were president of the student union and chief justice of the student court.
The graduates from that era haven’t done too badly since. Most served in some fashion in the military. At least one, Al Stine, made a career out of the Air Force. The aforementioned Harvey Eisen has been a major investor on Wall Street and was a regular panelist on the PBS show "Wall Street Week." Another one of our fraternity brothers (Mike Ruby) served as Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News and World Report and, of course, I represented the 24th Congressional District of Texas for 26 years in Washington.
Fraternities aren't as popular today as they were 45 years ago. Times have changed and young men have different ways of coming of age. However, fraternities have not completely disappeared. I am proud that my son-in-law, Rabbi Larry Bach, was a ZBT.
The good times we enjoyed as ZBT’s at the University of Missouri can never be taken away from us. The lessons we learned about life and about teamwork are hard to duplicate in today’s culture.
For just a weekend, we all remembered how important we had been to each other at a truly formative time in our young lives.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.