Ring Story: Buried Treasure

When Wade Crow ’69 lost his Clemson ring, he didn’t think he would ever see it again. He tells the story of how it came back to him.

Wade Crow and sons

As a senior engineering student in the class of ’69, I ordered my Clemson ring and couldn’t wait to get it on my finger. It symbolized not only a substantial amount of hard work but also a rewarding and fun-filled college adventure. Eight years later, when my first son was an infant, I took my ring off and left it in my car while doing some yardwork. When I looked for it later, it was nowhere to be found. Although heartbroken, I never seemed to have the extra funds to replace it as our family grew to four children.

Fast forward 25 years. My son is also graduating in engineering, and I offered to give him a ring as a graduation gift. I realized it was a good time to replace mine, so I ordered two rings. The lead time on the rings was six weeks; I was like a kid waiting for Christmas. Two weeks before my ring was due to arrive, I was working in the yard with a shovel and hit something metallic. I turned over a shovel-blade of soil, and an unmistakable glitter of untarnished gold was right in front of me — “Class of ’69.”

Two weeks later, I was the proud owner of two rings. My second son also finished Clemson in engineering and received his ring in 2013. We are likely one of the only families with four Clemson rings and only three graduates to wear them!

Looking back, I recognize that it was never really about the ring. It is all about the wonderful friends and memories associated with Clemson. Same football seats for 45 years, and still going.

Reunion Regatta

Clemson Crew celebrated its 30th anniversary by hosting a reunion regatta, where alumni got to race on Lake Hartwell once more.

Rowing on Lake HartwellWearing sunglasses and carrying boats on their shoulders, present and past members of the Clemson University Rowing Association, also known as Clemson Crew, strode out to Lake Hartwell for a friendly regatta. The conditions were perfect, not unlike 30 years ago when Clemson Crew’s founding club members rowed out onto the lake for the first time.
In 1988, the club was born out of a shared passion for rowing among six students. Since then, that passion and bond has grown to produce a reunion of more than 1,000 alumni, students and friends on March 1, 2019. The group gathered on the lake to host their own informal regatta a day before the Clemson Sprints Collegiate and Masters, which would play host to many other rowing clubs including Atlanta Rowing Club, High Point University and the University of South Carolina Rowing Club. Alumni raced alumni across the lake, just like old times for some. Founding members Steven Diacumakos and Bill Palmer spoke about the connection between club members that spans class years.
“My feeling is that every generation has done a great job of building on that momentum that the team started with,” Diacumakos said, who was club president from 1990-91. “Every generation has been a great steward of that energy.”
A hand-drawn boat and a picture of a Concept 2 rowing machine ripped straight from an advertisement were splashed across Clemson Crew’s original fliers, which relayed a simple message: A date and time for the first meeting along with student Phil Pyle’s phone number.
At the beginning of the meeting, Pyle took the lead and assumed the role of president. He worked with the other founding members to establish a club proposal and a budget to get the ball rolling. After the meeting, Bill Palmer had only one question for Pyle. “I asked, ‘Where do we go from here, and who did you row for in high school?’ And he said ‘Oh, I never rowed. I grew up in Philadelphia,’” Palmer laughed.
Six founders oversaw the genesis of Crew, and 47 members joined shortly after. From day one, the club was coed and had simple rules: Pay your dues, don’t cause trouble and show up to practice. More students joined the club after its founding, but Crew faced an immediate conundrum: They had no boats. Without the necessary equipment to row, they started with early-morning runs. Missing a run without an excuse could get a member kicked off the team, but every rower was treated fairly.
Jon Morgan, one of the first members, recalled the rigor of those early runs: “I was one of the stragglers at first, but Phil was never mean or abusive. He always said: ‘Finish. Just finish.’ Within a few months I was keeping up with everyone else, because he motivated me to do so.”
Within the year, Crew would obtain their first two boats: an eight-person boat in poor condition and a four-person boat that was surprisingly heavy and worn-out. They had no oars, so they borrowed a set of wooden ones from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. But their problems with equipment didn’t keep them from starting practice.
Having eight people rowing in unison is no simple task, but when it clicks, the experience borders on spiritual. Palmer, who had prior rowing experience, helped early members achieve their rhythm. “I was trying to beat it into their heads that it’s effort on the drive and easy on the way up, and they started to get it,” Palmer said. “And then they took 20 strokes, and it was just symphony on the water. I told them, ‘That’s it.’”
Crew participated in their first regatta at Duke University, and although they didn’t win first place the experience brought them closer together. “At that point, we were a rowing team,” said Morgan.Reunion Regatta
The Duke regatta was the first of many. Clemson Crew went to Tennessee, Virginia and Florida, not to mention many events held in South Carolina. They eventually managed to acquire some quality equipment through donations and the club’s budget. With new tools to help level the playing field, Crew realized their potential, and their performance improved.
At the same time, Crew kept an eye on their finances. Since they were (and still are) an entirely student-run organization, the leading members ran the club as if they were running a business.
Pyle had a contact on the Clemson Board of Trustees who helped jumpstart the club with $5,000, and Crew paid for additional expenses with money from the University’s student club fund and donations from supporters they’d garnered over the years. Most of their structures, including a floating dock and brand-new boathouse, were built by Crew members and friends from donated materials. When traveling to regattas, they would see if there were any friends willing to house them for the night. Eventually, Crew decided they wanted to host their own regatta, and it seemed they would have to pay out-of-pocket.
The club started charting a plan for the regatta. Around this time, Palmer was outside building new boat racks one afternoon. A jogger stumbled across the scene and spoke with Palmer, who explained what he was doing. After the stranger realized that the club’s activities were in March and April (a dry period for sports fans after the end of basketball season), he offered to help fund the regatta. It turned out that the stranger “was some bigwig at the local bank. They threw $3,000 at us to run the regatta. It was incredible,” Palmer said. The event was a success and it drew more attention the club.
Reunion RegattaWithin a few years of its founding, Clemson Crew established itself at several regattas. “You got to know the national and international teams,” Morgan said. At an international race in Augusta, Georgia, Clemson Crew raced against a number of skilled teams, including a visiting Russian team. “The Russian teams still had clothing that said CCCP on them,” Morgan said. “That was from the USSR, so it was pretty intense to see that those guys still had their old rowing gear.” Interested in one Russian rower’s woolen tank top, Morgan offered to buy it. But the rower wasn’t interested in money. Instead, he asked for Morgan’s extra pair of Levi jeans. “I said, ‘You got ‘em.’” They traded right there at the regatta.
Clemson Crew’s tightknit community has continued to evolve over the years, but their sense of loyalty and belonging has remained intact.
Diacumakos said that he was touched “to see that a couple generations had come through the years, and the enthusiasm and the culture, and a lot of the things we used to do are still in the team.”
Morgan said, “There’s people that row who have no idea who we are. And they keep this organization going with the same spirit we had. I’m impressed that they have kept it running at such a high level.”
Before the club’s first official meeting in 1989, Frank Howard was asked about the possibility of Clemson Crew gaining varsity status. “We ain’t gonna have no sport at Clemson where you sit on your butt and go backwards to win,” Howard said.
According to Pyle, Howard would later admit his support for Clemson Crew, but the rowers still joke about it to this day.
“I guess we proved him wrong,” Palmer said, laughing.

First Fraternity

Members of Sigma Alpha Zeta gathered to celebrate the 60th reunion of the University’s original fraternity.

Sigma Alpha Zeta Group Photo
Seven students and a table. That was all it took to form Sigma Alpha Zeta, Clemson’s first national fraternity and the organization that helped paved the way for all 46 Greek letter fraternities and sororities on campus today.
In the fall of 1959, Winston Fowler, a young Clemson student, traveled to the University of Virginia as a cheerleader. When he was mingling with other students, he heard about their university’s notable and highly secretive Seven Society.
“I got very little background information,” Fowler ’62 remembered. “I was just a sophomore talking to people.” But what he heard was promising. Seven Society, aside from being an organization known for its secrecy and generosity, was a social group that gave its members a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their college experience. For Fowler, this was an important piece of the puzzle.
When Clemson University was an all-male military school, incoming students were divided into “companies” that provided a chance to socialize and make lifelong friends. In the post-World War II era, this tradition faded away, and by 1959, Clemson was still without fraternities, official or otherwise, to fill the gap. It was an awkward time for new students seeking recreation since all official organizations at that time were subject to close scrutiny.
These organizations, such as Tiger Band and Taps, “were an approved form of social gathering, but it didn’t meet the needs of a purely social fraternity without the service aspect of it,” said Jeff O’Cain ’69, who pledged in 1967. “You had to be personally involved in doing something for the University to be recognized as a group.”
So, when Fowler returned from his trip to Virginia, he decided to tell his friends about what he had found. Sitting at a round table that could only fit seven, they decided to form an under-the-radar social fraternity in lieu of a full-blown secret society.
SAZ Anniversary
Maybe it was destiny, or maybe it was just a bit of good luck, but Fowler and friends quickly came across a piece of relevant information: The Board of Trustees had unexpectedly decided in their last meeting that they might allow probationary local fraternities on campus.
“Let’s be the first!” Fowler said to his friend Bill Shachte ’63. The plan changed. They drafted a charter and were ready to become officially recognized. After some further encouragement from the others in the group, Shachte gave their proposal to the Dean.
It worked. Sigma Alpha Zeta became the first official fraternity at Clemson.
Sixty years passed, and the “Zetas” haven’t missed a step. In 1959, the first seven members went on to tap seven more, leading to the original 14. Although the fraternity started small, it only continued to grow, and by the time Sigma Alpha Zeta became defunct in 1970, the fraternity had a total of 209 members — each one a loyal supporter of the University and their fraternity.
Tight ties kept the Zetas together and still do, evidenced by the reunion that ran from March 29-31 in Columbia, where over 130 Zetas and special guests gathered for recreation and reminiscing.
Highlights of the event included a golf tournament with trophies ranging from “longest drive” to “worst putt,” a Zeta history reading, door prizes and a ladies mimosa party with special gifts presented by the first Zeta president, Winston Fowler, and the last, Bob Ogletree ’70. Saturday morning, a memorial was held for the 38 deceased members.
The event also featured video appearances from President Clements and Coach Swinney. Clements thanked the Zetas for their selflessness throughout the years: “You had 209 members over your 10-year existence as a local fraternity, and all of you have been outstanding and loyal alumni over the past 60 years. Thank you to those original 14 members for taking the chance to start something new, and thank you to all of you for your support of Clemson. Enjoy your celebration, and go Tigers!”
Since Clements was unable to make it to the reunion in person, he sent the Tiger in his place.
“The Tiger came busting through the door; ‘Tiger Rag’ was playing. The whole place went bonkers,” said O’Cain.
The Tiger’s surprise appearance energized the guests, especially since many of the Zetas had been the Tiger in the past.
Reunion Program
An auction was held afterward that featured several items, including a custom Zeta-made wine bottle. The crown jewel was a signed championship football that had been briefly introduced by Coach Swinney in his video appearance. When the video ended, O’Cain walked on stage, saying, “Boy, I sure wish I had that football!”
Then, the football went sailing from the back of the room into his hands.
Ogletree, the last Zeta president, won big and went home with the football. All proceeds from the auction went to Dabo’s All In Team Foundation.
The reunion was the result of a titanic effort to find and contact all living Zeta members, several of whom had not been in touch for decades. Linda Williams (wife of an early Zeta member) spearheaded the outreach and was aided by alumni in Columbia. Zetas Turk Matthews ’69, David McLellan ’71 and O’Cain worked to plan and budget the event.
“The real highlight was in the number of people who attended,” said Fowler. “It was just very heartwarming to see people you hadn’t seen in 20 or 30 years, sometimes 40 or 50 years, or maybe since graduation. That was the big highlight.”
The announcement of the 60th reunion was a happy surprise for many, but it was not the first time the Zetas reunited — and it will not be the last. They still meet at least once a year at the University, usually on weekends when campus is quiet. They tour the facilities, including the Sigma Alpha Zeta Presentation Room (also known as Room 201A) in Cooper Library. The room was gifted by the Zetas and is maintained by a perpetual fund. To them, it was simply a chance to give back.
Sixty years ago, Fowler was impressed by Seven Society’s loyalty to their university and decided that Sigma Alpha Zeta would do the same. Over the years, they’ve made gifts to the University sometimes overtly (the presentation room, for example) and sometimes subtly, like a secret society might.
Regardless, the Zeta spirit remains unique. It’s an aged-to-perfection concoction of respect, energy and that quintessential Clemson loyalty.
“It was a spirit that we derived from our responsibilities to Clemson and our responsibilities for each other,” said O’Cain. “For love and affection and brotherhood.”

Club News

Library of Congress

Preserving Veterans’ Stories

The Library of Congress was the site of the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Clemson Club’s gala on May 14 to celebrate Clemson’s military history and veterans. For the event, the club partnered with Veterans History Project, a Library of Congress project that collects and preserves the personal stories and histories of the United States military. In a Creative Inquiry led by history professor Vernon Burton, students assist Veterans History Project by conducting interviews and collecting materials before digitizing them and sending them to the Library of Congress.

At the event, Sen. Tim Scott, Congressmen Jeff Duncan ’88* and Ralph Norman, Lt. Gen. Gene Blackwell ’63*, Maj. Gen. Ed Jackson ’86*, retired Maj. Gen. Mark Dillon, Maj. Gen. Timothy Kelly and Brig. Gen. F. Carlos Hill ’86* were in attendance, along with members of Clemson Corps and current cadets. A sold-out crowd of 200 alumni, parents and friends of the University enjoyed the event.


Philly Golf Tournament

On June 7, the Philadelphia Clemson Club hosted its third annual golf tournament and silent auction dinner at Rock Manor Golf Club in Wilmington, Del. Sixty-eight golfers participated, and there was a special appearance by the Tiger Cub. Over $7,000 was raised that day for the club’s scholarship fund.


Scholarship Banquet

The Spartanburg Clemson Club held a scholarship banquet and silent auction on April 30, which included a taco bar buffet by Cribbs Catering and desserts by Big Ben’s Desserts, notably his famous banana pudding. The event featured Women’s Basketball Head Coach Amanda Butler and Tim Bourret, former sports information director, along with appearances by IPTAY, the Alumni Association and the Women’s Alumni Council.


Tailgate Tavern

On May 13, the Aiken County Clemson Club put on a “Celebrity Waiter Night” at Tailgate Tavern in Aiken, S.C., to benefit Children’s Place. Celebrity waiters included members of the Women’s Alumni Council and celebrity hosts Sally Tice and Allison Basile. The 2019 National Championship game was played, and there was a Clemson-themed menu for guests to enjoy