On the 4th – Calvin Coolidge, Charles Dawes, and Lou Gehrig – Fraternity Men All!

Last week, while I was at the Pi Beta Phi Convention, one of the first things past Grand President Sarah Ruth “Sis” Mullis said to me, after she gave me one of her patented Sis hugs, was “Frances (and she’s one of the few people who can call me Frances), if there is the slightest opportunity for you to write about Grace Coolidge, you will find it and run with it!” I laughed and I agreed with her, especially since my blog post that day included information about Grace Coolidge’s trip to the 1915 Pi Phi Convention. It is almost impossible for me to talk about the 30th President of the United States without mentioning his charming and graceful wife.

John Calvin Coolidge. Jr. was born on July 4, 1872 in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. He attended Amherst College in Massachusetts where he became a member of Phi Gamma Delta. After graduation, while working as a lawyer in nearby Northampton, he met Grace Goodhue, a Pi Beta Phi who had recently graduated from the University of Vermont. She was working at the Clarke School for the Deaf. They married in the Goodhue family home in Burlington, Vermont. Although they spent their married life living in Massachusetts with a side trip to Washington, D.C., Vermont seemed to be always in their hearts.

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About a month ago, I found a signed Charles Dawes book while I was sorting books for the Friends of the Carbondale Public Library book sale. I have been meaning to write about Dawes, who served as Coolidge’s Vice President from 1925-29.

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The inscription looks like "Swayer (or Swager) Shesby (or Shesly). I have been unable to find anything. This book was later given to a law library and then discarded by the library. Any information on the former of the book would be much appreciated.

A book inscribed by Dawes to J. Swagar Sherley, a U.S. Representative from Kentucky. This book was later given to a law library and then discarded by the library.

Dawes was a member of the Marietta College chapter of Delta Upsilon. Last week, while at convention at the Chicago Hilton, the answer to the question “Who was the hotel’s first registered guest?” gave me another nudge.

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I had to ride the elevator for a while to get a picture of this screen showing the answer. The Chicago Hilton was known then known as the Stevens Hotel.

Dawes, a banker and politician, served as Comptroller of the Currency and the first Director of the Bureau of the Budget. After his retirement from politics, he served as Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on World War I reparations, the Dawes Plan. He is the only Vice-President who can claim a Nobel Prize and a #1 pop song.

In 1911, while serving as a Chicago bank president, Dawes wrote a composition, Melody in A Major. A friend took the sheet music to a publisher; Dawes was surprised one day to see his face on sheet music in a music store. The tune, often called Dawes’ Melody, was popular (listen to it played on a piano roll  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VefiKQ58ILI).

In 1951, Carl Sigman added lyrics to it changing the name to It’s All in the Game. In the fall of 1958, Tommy Edward’s recording spent six weeks as the American Billboard’s #1 hit. Since then it has remained a pop standard. It played prominently in the film Rocket Boys. (See http://wp.me/p20I1i-1Vu)

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July 4, 1939 was “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” at Yankee Stadium. On that day, baseball great Lou Gehrig, Phi Delta Theta, became the first major league baseball player to have his number retired. There are still people who were at Yankee Stadium that day, but those who would remember his words are in their 90s. Gehrig’s nickname, the Iron Horse, came from his prowess on the field. He played in 2130 consecutive games, a record which took decades to break.

In the last half of the 1938 season, things seemed a bit off for him. He collapsed at spring training in 1939, and at his wife’s urging he found himself at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After six days of testing, on his 36th birthday, June 19, he received the grim diagnosis. He had Amyotrophic Lateral  Sclerosis (ALS), a disease where motor function slowly fades away while the mind remains sharp. He died June 2, 1941. Today, ALS is better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Phi Delta Theta has a partnership with the ALS Association. Chapters raise funds for the Association and each chapter is encouraged to connect with the local ALS Association chapters to assist area residents suffering from the disease.

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Each year since 1955, the fraternity presents the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award to the MLB player who exemplifies Gehrig’s spirit and character. The plaque is located at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

Seventy-six years ago today, in front of a packed house at Yankee Stadium, Gehrig gave his farewell speech. He did it without notes and spoke from the heart. You can see parts of his speech and all the MLB first-basemen reciting it with him. It’s at http://foxs.pt/1lCkcPG. If you prefer to read the words, here they are.

For the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

When you look around, wouldn’t you it consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such as fine looking a man as is standing in uniform today.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?

Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert; also the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow; to have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow Miller Huggins; then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology—the best manager in baseball today—Joe McCarthy! Sure I am lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophiesthat’s something.

When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter, that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it’s a blessing! When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break; but I have an awful lot to live for!”

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To read more about President Coolidge’s life as a Phi Gamma Delta member, please visit these earlier posts: http://wp.me/p20I1i-2L and http://wp.me/p20I1i-gf

To read more about his lovely wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, a charter member of the Vermont Beta Chapter of Pi Beta Phi, please visit this earlier post: http://wp.me/P20I1i-16 as well as searching the posts using the categories on the right hand of this page.

© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/

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