I have had a great time reliving these stories and memories over the past few days. I appreciate all of the comments and stories you have shared with me throughout my Top 10 List. I kicked it off with the Honorable Mentions, and followed up with numbers 10-7, and 6-3! These stories cover 12 years of living life to the fullest, and I hope you enjoyed them all.
The Number Two memory for me spans over three days my freshman year that not only changed my life forever, but the lives of many more too. I will tell you the story as it unfolded for me…in real time.
6 p.m. – It had been a long year for me already. I tore my ACL playing basketball the previous fall, and had to wait until Spring Break of my senior year to have surgery. I hobbled along all summer long, and got rid of the brace and the crutches just before I left for college.
I had been a great runner before all of my injuries, and I had to wait patiently for six months before I could start running again. I had had this day circled on my calendar for months…I got to run again! I headed to NSU’s track with my good friend Bradford Williams, and we slowly jogged around the practice fields in that hot September heat.
7 p.m. – Bradford had made sure we ran to the track and back…he felt it was embarrassing that many NSU students drove from the dorms to the track to walk or run. After we started back to campus, Joe Sexson drove up next to us and asked if we wanted a ride. The sun was beaming down on us, and we welcomed the cool AC that Joe’s car provided.
On the way back to campus. Joe asked us why we hadn’t been at the fraternity rush meetings that week. To be honest, I had forgotten about it. I was starting to become great friends with many fraternity guys, but I was very upfront with them that I had no desire to join their ranks. I wanted to stay focused on my schoolwork, I had a HS girlfriend who requested much of my time, and I wasn’t too excited to do all the fraternity hazing that I had seen on TV and the movies.
Joe snapped me out of my daydream, “Eller! Quit goofing off! I asked you why you weren’t coming to the fraternity rush events.”
“To be honest with you Joe, I have no desire to join a fraternity, and I have been busy running! Can’t you see that I am sweating over here?” I replied with a defensive tone.
“Well, I would really appreciate it if you showed up for the Lambda Chi presentation tomorrow. Actually, I’ve been talking to Fenska, Murr, Adney, and Zeddie…we all really want both of you there.”
Bradford and I appeased Joe with a cordial response as he dropped us off at SE Leoser. I didn’t think much of it until later that night.
10:30 p.m. – Bradford and I were in his room, competing against Mac Maddox in a serious game of Halo. I had never seen an X-Box before, they were brand new and every guy on campus wanted one. This is one reason why I really liked Mac and Bradford, they had one in their room.
We heard a loud knock on the door while we were vigorously engaged in Halo. “Come on in!” hollered Mac over the loud violence of the video game. In walked five large and imposing men with somber looks on their face. Zeddie Cantrell, Luke Mosher, Joe Sexson, Ryan Fenska, and Andy Geppelt stooped through the door and turned off our video game.
“We want you guys to reconsider going through fraternity recruitment,” said Zeddie through his thick Bristow accent. “You are destined for more, your life has a bigger calling that the path you have currently chosen. We all see more in you than you see in yourself. Come to the Lambda Chi Alpha presentation tomorrow night. We have seen you from your days in high school and want to help you become a leader amongst men.”
I couldn’t argue with their reasoning, and neither could Bradford, so we made up our minds to show up the next day. I mean, at the least these guys had fed us many free meals, even if it was cheap hamburgers and hot dogs. We spent the rest of the night marveling at the advancements of technology through video games and eventually parted ways. Little did we know that we needed all of the rest we could get, the next day would change our lives forever.
7:50 a.m. – My freshmen year Cousin Kyle was my roommate. We led very different collegiate lives during our first semester. I was completely engaged in NSU life, and Kyle hated being there. I wanted to hang out with other people and see what the campus had to offer. Kyle wanted to go back home and see his girlfriend (he ended up marrying her…it worked out). On this day we had a ton in common.
We were both asleep when our dorm room phone started to ring (for you young ones reading this, no one had cell phone service in Tahlequah, and all of us had an actual telephone in our room with an extension). Our phone was ringing very loudly until Kyle answered it. It was Slade Cochrane, which if you knew Slade, it really strange for him to be calling us this early.
Slade was telling Kyle to turn on the TV as I yelled at Kyle to hang up the phone. Kyle hung up the phone and rolled back over. Almost immediately afterward, our phone started to ring again. This time I answered, and Fenska was on the line, frantically telling us to turn on the TV.
8 a.m. – I flipped on the TV, and asked Fenska what station I needed to turn the TV to, and he said, “It doesn’t matter, it is the same thing on every station.” I dropped my jaw as I saw the video replays of a plane flying into the World Trade Center.
Kyle rolled over and asked, “What is going on?”
Fenska answered his question as if Kyle had asked him, “It’s a terrorist attack. That is what all the news stations are saying, but everyone is really confused. They are trying to evacuate the other building right now, but so many people work and visit there. This is crazy man.”
In almost the exact moment that Fenska was talking about the second tower, Kyle yelled for me to look at the second plane coming into the screen.
“It’s going straight for that other building. Look at it!”
I will never forget the feeling I had when that second plane flew into the World Trade Center. I knew that life as we knew it was about to change, but I had no idea how. Kyle and I set around for a little while and discussed the events as they happened live on our television. We were glued to the coverage, much like the rest of America, and I didn’t know how we would face the day. I called every person I loved and told them how much they meant to me.
9:30 a.m. – Believe it or not, when I was a freshman, I went to every single class. Sept. 11, 2001 was no exception. I had a PLC political science class with Dr. Sharp in Seminary Hall, and I genuinely wanted to go to class and digest the events of the day with my classmates and professor. We set around for over an hour and tried to explain the injustices of the world, and why that bad things happened to innocent people.
I am not quite sure that I’ve ever found a good answer to that question, and I don’t know if I ever will. On that day, I sat dumbfounded with a group of other freshmen who thought about more than surface issues and everyday life. As the reports came in we heard about hundreds of people who had died unjustly in these inhumane terrorist attacks.
11:05 a.m. – Our group walked out of class a little late that day, and as we were walking down the steps of Seminary Hall towards the cafe, we all heard screaming coming from behind us. A girl was running and screaming at the top of her lungs, almost in hysteria.
“My mom worked in that tower!” she screamed as she flew by us on the steps. She literally stopped right in the middle of the sidewalk and collapsed on the ground under the weight of this tragic news. Kristen Schell and a few other girls ran to her and immediately started praying and trying to console her. Her screams will forever haunt me, as we never found out if her mom made it out alive.
3:30 p.m. – I actually went to all of my classes that day, even a stinking Zoology lab class that had us catching butterflies in a field near campus. As I was leaving the field with no butterflies (I wasn’t good at catching butterflies…or good at Zoology for that matter), Cousin Kyle told me that the radio stations were all predicting a shortage of gasoline in the US. He informed me that I should take my truck immediately to the gas station and fill up or I was going to be walking before too long.
I turned the truck around and headed to the closest gas station to fill her up, and saw the line for the gas station before I found the gas station. It was a 3/4 of a mile line of cars waiting on pumps to open up. As I got a little closer I saw the price of gasoline had skyrocketed that afternoon. Gas was almost $3.50 a gallon. I was absolutely shocked.
I grabbed my phone, called Kyle, and informed him that I would walk from here to China and back before I would ever put gas that expensive in my truck. I never thought I would see the day that gas would be above $2 a gallon, much less over $3 a gallon. Little did I know that it wouldn’t be long before I would pay over $4 for gas an entire summer a few years later.
I will never forget the events that unfolded that morning. The uncertainty that hung over all of our thoughts and the pain in everyone’s hearts was almost too much to bear. I later learned of the monumental loss the US sustained on 9/11, and the repercussions of the terrorist attacks. I saw first hand the resiliency of our country and the fine citizens who banded together to rebuild. On that day, however, I was lost and sad and angry.
5:30 p.m. – Amidst the tragedy that had occurred that day, I had nearly forgotten about the promise I had made Zeddie and friends just the night before. I promised that I would attend the Lambda Chi Alpha presentation Thursday night, but it really didn’t seem important at the moment. Nonetheless, I called Fenska to make sure the presentation was still happening.
He assured me that the best thing we could possibly do was to return to everyday life. Continue on living so we could show the terrorists that their plans couldn’t change us! We were more powerful than they ever knew. Looking back, I am not quite sure if our resolution and perseverance in Tahlequah affected the War on Terror, but at that moment I believed Fenska whole-heartedly.
6:00 p.m. – I was in a TV-induced haze when Bradford stopped by my room to walk with me to the fraternity presentations. We sat through the Phi Lamb presentation waiting for our chance to listen to the Lambda Chis. I don’t remember everything about that evening, but I remember three things very distinctly.
7:00 p.m. – All of the guys going through fraternity recruitment were standing in the hallway of the UC eagerly anticipating the Chop presentation. We could hear music start up, and Bradford informed me that it was the Lo Fidelity Allstars “Battlefield” playing in the background. The doors flew open and I saw a bunch of men wearing sport coats and ties standing in a line around the room.
We went into the room single file and shook the hand of every single member of Lambda Chi. I had no idea there were that many Chops, and I recognized the faces of almost every leader I had met since I had arrived on campus. It took forever to shake every hand, but we eventually all got seated and the presentation started.
Drew Ledbetter started us off with a comment about a fat person sitting on a stool and a three-part speech, and then passed the reigns over to Jerrod Murr. Now, I had heard Murr speak a few times in my day, but not in this capacity.
Murr asked us to raise our hand as high as we could, and had us make sure it was as high as it go. Then he asked us to raise it two inches higher. Wouldn’t you know every single person in the room could raise their hand a little higher.
He told us that we were all exceptional young men that would reach great heights regardless if we joined a fraternity or not. But Lambda Chi was that extra two inches that would take us to excellence. He said the excellence was not an act, but a habit. Our time in Lambda Chi Alpha would allow us to be amongst men who would not only encourage us to be leaders, but would challenge us to be the best possible version of man we could be.
He said that the events of earlier that morning further proved that we had a responsibility to view the value of our life. Murr challenged us to live our collegiate experience to the fullest. We had one shot at college, why not make the most of it?
It was as if he was speaking directly to me, and knowing Murr, he probably was. He at least gave me a lot to think about. I spent the next few hours contemplating the decision I could possibly make the next day….if I was lucky enough to get a bid.
7:00 a.m. – I was ridiculously nervous all night, and I had dreamed about everything Murr had said the night before. Was I on path to living the true college experience? Did I have a chance at a bid? Would I make it in? The next few hours were going to be rough for me.
11:30 a.m. – I mentioned earlier that I actually went to class my freshman year, and this morning was no different. My 11 o’clock class got out early and I headed towards the café, well, because back in those days that is where everyone hung out in between classes.
My old friend Joe Sexson spotted me walking into the café and pulled me aside. He had the sternest look on his face. He placed his hand on his shoulders and said,
“Eller, I am glad I ran in to you here. I just wanted you to know that regardless of what you see upstairs when you see if you got a bid, I am still going to be your friend. Make sure you know that we can’t give out bids to every guy who wants to join our brotherhood.”
I was crushed. I knew right then that I was not going to get a chance with these guys. Why had they asked me to attend the presentation? Why did I even get my hopes up? It was a stupid idea anyways, I didn’t even want to join less than 24 hours ago…I guess the emotion of 9/11 had really messed with me.
Noon – I walked through the café and saw the crowds of guys headed up to the ballroom to see if they got a bid and laughed at them. These guys probably just got their hopes up too. They were going to get dashed just like I did.
1:30 p.m. – I had eaten lunch and went to my 1 o’clock class, which also got out early. Those were my favorite types of classes. As I was walking back to my dorm I ran across a couple of Lambda Chis, and I tried to avoid them. It seemed as if they were walking directly towards me.
They hollered my name and were definitely walking in my direction. They asked me why I hadn’t attempted to see if I had any bids. I told them that I was just taking my time, which of course was a cover to my disappointment. They encouraged me to check it out because I only had 30 more minutes to see what was in store for me.
I decided to walk upstairs just to double-check if I had anything in my envelope. When I walked into the room I saw Kyle Shepard, an older Lambda Chi who was sitting behind all of the envelopes. There were only a few left, and he handed me one with my name on it. His face was as strong as stone, and I swear he never took his eyes off of me.
When I held it in my hand, I knew that my envelope had nothing it. I even waited for a few minutes to see if I actually wanted to see what was inside. I mean, if I didn’t open it, I would never know and wouldn’t be disappointed.
In a moment of weakness I tore open the envelope to find one bid card inside. It was from Lambda Chi Alpha and had my name on it. They had invited me to join, and I signed immediately.
2:00 p.m. – As I was walking down the stairs I ran into Joe again, and this time he had a huge smile on his face. He had totally faked me out. I wanted to punch him on the spot but instead shook his hand that he extended in congratulation.
5:00 p.m. – I waited in line in the Spirit Pit and listened to all of the fraternity guys chant and jump around. The girls were all there in their favorite fraternity shirt and were taking pictures of everyone.
I stood there surrounded by other guys I had went through recruitment with. Some of them I knew and some I didn’t. They called each guy out individually and announced to the crowd which fraternity they joined.
It got to my turn, and Kyle Shepard shook my hand as he announced that I joined Lambda Chi! Ryan Fenska met me in the middle of the Spirit Pit with a T-Shirt and a man hug. He led me to the rest of the guys who all congratulated me on the accomplishment.
6:00 p.m. – After all of the guys were announced, it seemed like we took 1,000 pictures. At about 6 the crowds thinned out and Fenska put his long arm around my shoulders and informed me that I was going with him.
“Going with you where?”
“Doesn’t matter, just know you are going with me.”
“Well, I can’t go, I have a date tonight!”
I hadn’t seen my HS girlfriend much in the past few weeks, and we had a special date planned for that evening. Fenska didn’t seem to care.
“Well, sounds like you need to cancel your date,” said Fenska.
“There is no way I am going to do that,” I retorted.
“Well, I guess I am going to have to call her then.”
Fenska grabbed my phone, looked up her number and told her that I was hanging out with him for the rest of the night. She was not happy to say the least. I had to deal with that for weeks to come (lesson to all of you out there??? Don’t date HS girls when you are in college…I learned the hard way).
The rest of the night literally changed my life. Every word that Murr said the night before turned out to be true. These men became my best friends, the guys who were in my wedding, and now our kids play together. The bonds created during my five years in LXA have created a lifetime of memories.
The lessons I learned as a member of Lambda Chi challenged me to grow in ways that I would have never imagined. In the next few years I changed from an immature kid to the man I am today.
I have been fortunate enough to learn from over 300 different members of Lambda Chi Alpha, and I could not thank each and every one of you enough. I love you all.
I think this quote sums up my experience with Lambda Chi perfectly:
“From the outside looking in, you will never be able to understand it. From the inside looking out, we could never explain it.”
Those three days were life changing for me, and I will never forget them for the rest of my life. I am sorry this post is so long, but I didn’t want to leave anything out! What do you remember from those days? What was your experience during 9/11?