My Best Founders’ Day Ever – Durward Owen’s Memoirs

By Durward Owen, Xi (Roanoke)
An excerpt from The Brotherhood, History of Pi Kappa Phi 1904-2004

It was 8:00 a.m. on December 10, 1995, and the weather looked as if it was going to be a cold but great day to work outside. Bill Jackson from North Carolina at Charlotte, ‘75, Jonathan Scott from Valdosta State, ‘86, and Stuart Volker of Sacramento State, ‘83, were already there. Dave Simas of Old Dominion, ‘88, would arrive in about thirty minutes. All four were Pi Kappa Phi alumni.

The unimaginative white clapboard house was in terribly bad repair, while the yard and surroundings were even worse. When it rained, the yard and drive would be a sea of mud. The neighborhood was equally depressing.

Mid day the neighborhood was made very real when a police officer walked up. He had a picture and wanted to know if we had seen the man as he was wanted for murder and had last been seen nearby.

From the porch there was a rickety set of steps leading directly to the front yard of dirt and little grass. Off to the left were two long narrow strips of metal which at this time were drawn up and laying on the porch itself.

Shortly I was to learn that these two thin metal strips constituted a ramp which could be used for a paraplegic, with at least two able bodied people helping, to get him and his motor drive wheelchair from the porch to the yard itself. There was then thirty feet of dirt and debris to navigate before arriving at the equally potentially muddy driveway, and another twenty feet to the road itself. There was no sidewalk.

This young 14 year old boy was totally dependent on the above for any entrance and departure from his home. Just getting to the street on the morning of a school day, the days he could get there, and returning that evening was a momentous endeavor. It often required more people than were available.

Volker already had the compressor running and therefore the automatic nailer was ready to go. Power was extended into the house to operate the power saw. A local supplier had delivered our small truckload of treated lumber of various proportions, as well as twenty bags of concrete mix, all paid for by PUSH America (now The Ability Experience) with funds raised by our student chapters. Noticeably facing me was a post hole digger.

I found quickly that even though this was my second ramp for Pi Kappa Phi and PUSH America I still had skills only for basic manual labor. I was to find later that Volker and Jackson were adamant that I was not to use any of the machinery, especially the power driven nailing device. Perhaps they would allow me to use a hand held hammer.

The bare footed lady of the house had some package doughnuts and instant coffee on a small table on the porch. That was in itself good enough to get the day started when you considered how much work we had to do, and who we were doing it for.

At noon Scott was sent off to get lunch from Burger King, and although it was only a short distance away he avoided manual labor for at least an hour and a half before he finally returned for the lunch urgently needed by the other four of us. At 4:00 p.m. we had completed a ramp, designed by Bill Jackson, extending ten feet from the porch, where a turning platform was constructed, following a 90 degree angle to the left, carrying the ramp to within four feet of the driveway. It was late, and the sun was fading this December afternoon and it was determined that two of us would return the following week and prepare the concrete platform which would be at the end of the ramp leading to the drive.

The time had come. A disabled 14 year old client came out of his front door, bundled up, for this was not a warm day. With his arms strapped to the electronic wheelchair he, for the first time, was able to go from his living room out onto his porch and continued to the driveway under his own power, under his own control, and with no one else needed to help him. As if he had been doing it for years, he turned his chair 360 degrees and returned back to his living room, again unattended. That small degree of independence brought forth from him a smile from ear to ear, and a brilliant color of enthusiasm to his chubby cheeks. We each had a tear in each eye to match those in his and his mother’s.

There had been 44 December 10ths in my life since the day I was initiated into Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. As I was driving away from this very poor neighborhood, from this hardly adequate home, I contemplated the previous 43 Founders Day experiences. December 10 had brought about formal dinners in tuxedos, barbecues at lake locations, elaborate dances with wives and dates, fancy restaurants and expensive hotels and other environments too many to recount.

I realized in a flash that I had just experienced my finest Pi Kappa Phi Founders Day celebration ever. Barring none, it exceeded all!

In my vision of the moment I could easily see Founder Harry Mixson looking down, and with a broad infectious smile, toasting the event with a glass of bourbon. I could see Founder Simon Fogarty waxing eloquent in the ethereal experience of the moment, substantiated by quotes from bards of the past. And, that one who was the prime mover of it all, Founder Alex Kroeg, seemed to shout out, “By God, I think they finally got it!”

We had!