John DeWolf '30 of Houston, Texas has written about his time at Sigma Rho in late 1920's. He passed away February 5, 2004 and his daughter, Deborah Allen of AZ, sent us a segment from his memoirs called "My Life and Good Times". From it, we learn what life was like at the Beta house and on campus. He reports on the early days of Tom and Carrie who were our cooks for many years. He also reports on some of the Sigma Rho activities at the time. John was active in many campus organizations and sports and excelled in academics.
The Illio shows us this recap of at least some of his activities:
John DeWolf Houston, Texas
Beta Theta Pi
Tau Beta Pi ; Phi Eta Sigma ; Mask and Bauble; Pierrots ; Pi Epsilon Delta ; Scabbard and Blade; Sigma Epsilon ; Pi Tau Pi Sigma ; Railway Club; E. E. Society; Track (1, 2) ; Soccer (2) ; Editor, Technograph (2, 3, 4) ; Circus (2) ; Theatre Guild (4) ; Engineering Dance (3, 4) ; Engineering Council (4) ; Captain, University Brigade (3)
John was a loyal Sigma Rho Beta and attended the celebration of our chapter's 100th anniversary in 2002. John's brother, Frank T. DeWolf '39 was also a Sigma Rho Beta.
Excerpt from an unpublished document “My Life and Good Times” by John Walbridge DeWolf written in 1999
Then came college. I returned to Champaign/Urbana and the University of
Illinois, where I enrolled in Railway Electrical Engineering. I had been
‘rushed’ by mail by the Betas all summer, and while I visited other
fraternities, including Pop's Phi Delta Theta, there had never been any doubt
in my mind but that I would join Beta Theta Pi. It was a great house - best on
the campus - and a great bunch of fellows.
I have many fond memories of my Beta days. I first roomed with Arv Binney
and Bill Reed. I went to Bill's home in Monticello for Thanksgiving at least
once, and he and I would sometimes go to (Professor) Cornelia Kelly's
apartment for Sunday night supper and bridge with Cornelia and her mother.
She had been a good friend of my folks and I had stayed with her until I was
pledged and moved into the Beta house. I was in touch with Bill even after he
retired to Sarasota (he was an architect). I next roomed with Phil Sayles and
Jud Carrell; I saw both many times as long as they lived. I roomed with Tom
Miller the next year; Tom probably held the record for being the best scissor-
jump high jumper of all times (but the scissor kick went out of style even
before Tom came to college). I roomed for two years with Henry (Brig) Brigham
and various freshmen. I was especially close to 'Peanuts’ Holbrook and Loyal
Smith - Loyal spent most of his and my 50th anniversary with Jean and me; I
visited 'Peanuts' in my Cahners days whenever I went to Chicago. ‘Pinky’
Cline moved to New York City when he became Treasurer of Anaconda, and I used
to lunch with him from time to time in the late 50's and early 60's.
In my freshman year I played my trumpet, with Phil playing the piano and
Cal Beck the violin, in the living room before dinner. We always sang at our
tables at the end of dinner - Beta songs, My Old Shanghai Rooster, Lord
Jeffrey Amherst, and many others; Phil was our song leader, and when he
graduated, I took over from him. There was ‘Mother Macklin’, our ‘colored'
cook who arrived the year before I did, and Tom, her husband, who made our
beds and tried to keep the house clean and orderly (he later became assistant
cook). In later years, whenever I visited Urbana/Champaign, I would visit
Carrie and Tom in their home just off Neil Street in Champaign. They
remembered every single Beta who lived in the house from 1925 until they
retired, perhaps in 1955. I sat beside Carrie in her bedroom, reminiscing with
her, a few days before she died, and Loyal Smith and I spent Sunday morning of
our 50th anniversary visiting with Tom. (Loyal died just before this last
Christmas and I am the sole survivor of the 60 or so Betas who were there
between 1926 and 1933.)
One memorable event, which Debbie always liked, involved my freshman
roommate of my senior year. I got up one morning and couldn't find my shoes.
Soon I was hearing calls from others ‘Where are my shoes?’ We all went down
to breakfast in our stocking feet - and there, from the west wall of the
dining room to the east wall of the living room - a stretch of probably 100
feet - were pairs of shoes, neatly lined up, with their laces removed (and
rolled up into a big ball at the foot of the stairs). In fact there was one
full row of shoes and another half row. It is amazing how all men's shoes look
alike! We spent most of the morning sorting them out. (Thank goodness, they
had been kept in pairs.) It took several days to discover it was my roommate,
John Ryde, and two other freshmen who had spent the night waiting for each of
us to go to bed and fall asleep - and then had taken all our shoes (several
pair per brother), carried them downstairs, and remove the laces. Some
brothers had been studying as late as two; one or two others had gotten up at
five - and none had seen any sign of the robbery.
When I got to Champaign, I of course started dating Dorothy Filbey.
However, after our Christmas formal (an elegant affair) I realized she had
never had me to her house (Tri-Delt), and I got the message. I have a vague
recollection that I did roller-skate her to our spring dance in my senior
year, but if so, that was our only date after that first formal. (We had a
roller-skate fad in the spring of 1930 - everyone roller-skated to everything
for two or three months). I had only two fairly serious affairs during my four
years - Alberta Leeper (like Debbie, a Sigma Kappa) for a while in my junior
year, and Esther Caldwell for my last four months. (She was an Alpha Gamma
Delta - but lived with her older sister in private home on Indiana.) I kept
in touch with Es for years, but in July ‘33 Jean took over.
My problem with girls was that they were outnumbered by boys, two to one.
As a consequence, you had to get a date three or four weeks ahead. I settled
for those that I could call up Friday for a Saturday date - and the choice was
usually not so good.
As a freshman I went out for cross-country (we had four of the best in the
Beta House) but I didn't have the stamina. In the spring, I went out for
track, but I was too slow for anything but the mile. I tried javelin, but
when I learned the technique, it spoiled my distance. In my sophomore year I
tried soccer - a new event in college. I made one trip with the team, but
never got into a game. My big success was as a clown in the circus put on
every year in the stadium in late spring. I won first place in my junior
year, and then to prove this was no fluke, first place again in my senior
year. My rewards were two of the biggest loving cups I ever saw. Pop always
felt this was a terrible achievement for someone who supposedly went to
college to get an education!
Where I shone was on the engineering college's magazine, the Technograph
I was editor in my senior year - and on the business side of dramatics. After
being business manager or manager of several plays - including ‘Beggar on
Horseback’ which opened the Little Theater in Lincoln Hall and starred Charles
Luckman (later president of Lever Brothers and after that a famous architect),
I became the first business manager of the Theater Guild itself. (There was
also a production manager,’Ec’ Economos - a good friend.) I was elected
president of Mask and Bauble, but had to resign when appointed to the Theater
I was one of the founders of the Fine Arts Ball - which I think has now
gone by the boards.
Along with these activities, I did all right on scholarship. Had straight
A's two semesters; made Tau Beta Pi in my junior year (we always claim that
Tau Beta Pi is the Phi Beta Kappa of the engineering school); graduated with
high honors; and was a ‘Bronze Tablet Scholar’ (there were 20 or so in our
graduating class of perhaps 2000).