Harry Milligan returned to campus this fall for the first time in 49 years. And when his buddies greeted him in the lobby of The Ohio University Inn, it wasn't "Harry!" they holler ed. It was "Spud!"

In fact, some of those Sigma Theta Gamma brothers of the late 1940s had a hard time remembering Milligan's real name after all those years. What they hadn't forgotten, though, were the times they shared during their post-World War II college days, fodder for a stream of stories and songs that flowed all weekend.

Milligan and his 22 pals who gathered in late October with their wives, many of them college-sweethearts-turned-lifelong-partners, are among tens of thousands of Ohio University alumni who have found it worthwhile to maintain or re-establish contact with college friends. Whether sparked by ties to fraternities or sororities, common majors, band membership or shared backgrounds, the relationships have sustained through the years because they helped shape lives.

Friends who returned for the 1998 Black Alumni Reunion share a moment of prayer.< /font>

Photo: Rick Fatica

"I think it's a sense of 'My years here have extended into my life.' And that's important," says 1980 graduate Donna Harris-Jones, an organizer of the black alumni reunion that has drawn 300 to 400 alums to campus every three years since 1989. "The bottom line is, you really had a good experience here, and that's why you come back."

Harris-Jones returns more than most, usually in an official capacity. She's vic e chair of the Alumni Association Board of Directors and head of the association's St. Louis chapter. But the black alumni reunions help her connect on a very personal level. She sometimes spends holidays and other special occasions with friends she reunited with at the campus get-togethers.

Andrew Safnauer (closest), Chris Butts and Sam Schisler, all 1993 graduates, rest up before the Alumni B and's halftime and post-game Homecoming performances.

Photo: Bill Graham

For Andrew Safnauer, Chris Butts and Sam Schisler, all 1993 grads, the Marching 110 is the tie that binds. The three returned to OU in October along with about 200 other former band members to take part in Homecoming performances.

"We come back and buy a bunch of sweatshirts," says Safnauer, who drove up from Greenville, S.C., for the weekend. "It's the one bi g blast once a year to come back for."

It's also an opportunity to relive -- and perhaps improve on -- the past.

"The band was best when I was in it," Safnauer says, grinning as he and his friends rest in the shade between the morning parade and the afternoon football game. "And I was the best marcher." His buddies hoot and shake their heads.

Homecoming also is the annual draw for a group of grads from the late '70s and early '80s who grew up in Athens. "We're a buncha hillbillies," one shouts from the center of a tailgate party.

"We've been friends through elementary school and high school and then college," says Andy Cook, a 1980 graduate. He and several others in the group now live in Columbus, returning to Athens for Homecoming and at least one basketball game every winter with the central Ohio alumni chapter.

Mark Mace, who graduated in 1978, is treasurer of the chapter and helps organize an annual St. Patrick's Day party an d alumni receptions such a recent one at the Statehouse attended by University President Robert Glidden and Gov. George Voinovich, a 1958 alum.

"It's just great that you stay in touch with people," Mace says. "And I think it's also important for people to give back to the university." But while the Athens natives may be a fixture at Homecoming, they'll have to stick with their tradition a long time to catch up with The Inn Group.

Members of The Inn Group pose for a photo during a Homecoming party.

Photo: Bill Graham

Bob Baur, Sid Jordan, Ed Schroeder, Pete Lalich, Ernie Mariani and dozens of others -- many of whom had their college days interrupted by WWII -- have gathered every year for Homecoming since they graduated. They dubbed themselves The Inn Group because the OU Inn serves as the center for their festivitie s: dinners, dancing and late nights at the piano singing old standards like "As Time Goes By" and "Sweet Lorraine."

They say they're the oldest alums -- not just of Ohio University, but anywhere -- who get together at least once a year.

"We can match any of 'em," says Baur, who started college in 1940 and finished in 1948 after the war. "I came here and didn't want to leave. I think these men here all feel the same."

Heads nod around the table. "I think you answe red for all of us," Mariani says.

These alums and others who stay in touch across the country and around the world are fulfilling a very real, very human need, says Ohio University Associate Professor of Sociology Christine Mattley, who has studied and written about the sociology of emotions.

"Longtime friendships are part of our personal history, or our biography," Mattley says. "They are an important part of who we are. Shared history creates a solidary relationship. In o ther words, we share with someone an important event in our past, and it creates a positive bond. The more we share, the more robust the solidary relationship is and the greater the security of the individuals.

"Some have even suggested that solidary relationships are the foundation for our humaneness," she says. "Are they worthwhile? Sure, they are essential for us both socially and psychologically."

The prospect of rekindling the memories and emotions of their college days led Spud Milligan's friends to organize their first reunion in 1980, says Bob Pifer, a 1948 alum who, like many of his buddies, attended college under the GI Bill. There are 66 folks on the group's mailing list, almost all of them affiliated with the Sigma Theta Gamma local fraternity or its predecessor in what is now the Sigma Chi house, Sigma Pi.

"It's an emotional thing usually," Pifer says. "We just talk about the old times. We play that all night."

In a telephone inter view from his home in Coconut Creek, Fla., after the reunion, Spud says reuniting with his college friends was worth his first trip to Ohio in almost half a century.

"My advice to anyone graduating today is to come back more often," Spud quips. "You can recognize people more easily."

Some ideas to help you find old friends

If you're having trouble finding old college friends or just want to get back in touch, the university may be able to help. Here are some options:

Check out the Web

    The Office of Alumni Relations site on the World Wide Web is a great place to start.

    You can register yourself, making it easier for friends to find you. You also can check through the list of others who've registered and contact them.

    There's a bulletin board for posting messages, a networking circle to locate people with similar careers or interests, a class notes section to inform fellow alumni of important events in your life and a business card exchange.

    Simply click on alumni on the university's front door at www.ohio.edu or go directly to www.ohiou.onlinecommunity.com.

Call Alumni Relations

    You can leave your name and phone nu mber along with the name of the person youre trying to contact with the Office of Alumni Relations by calling (740) 593-4300. The office will try to track down that person and link the two of you up.

    The office also can give you a contact name for a specific alumni chapter, constituent society or campus group.

Contact your college

    For lists by group or major, you can check with specific colleges, departments or groups on campus. The main telephone numbe r for campus is (740) 593-1000.

Mary Alice Casey is interim editor of Ohio University Today.


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