I didn’t have a post planned for today. I’ve been running hither and yon and I need to cross about a dozen items off the list for today. When this came across the twitter feed, I knew I had to put that pesky list aside and write something.
On this day in 1978, Chuck Stenzel perished in a hazing at Alfred University, inspiring my book “Broken Pledges.”
As one who believes ardently in the fraternity and sorority experience when it is done correctly, I have a horrible reaction to hazing. Chuck Stenzel’s death touched me deeply. He was from Long Island and he went to college in upstate New York. I was at Syracuse when this happened and I remember my mother saving the Newsday coverage for me. My mother’s frame of reference on Greek-letter organizations was only was she saw on television and read in the newspaper. She asked if things like this went on at Syracuse. Her concern is the same concern I had when my sons pledged a fraternity. Was fraternity being done right or would I have to worry constantly?
Chuck Stenzel’s mother, Eileen Stevens, was dumbfounded when she received a phone call in the middle of the night telling her that her 20-year-old son had died of alcohol poisoning. He was a pledge of Klan Alpine, a local fraternity at Alfred University in western New York.
A headline in the February 12, 1979 issue of People magazine read, “Her Son’s Pointless Death Spurs An Angry Mother’s War Against Fraternity Hazing.” Eileen Stevens founded a non-profit organization in her son’s memory, C.H.U.C.K. (Committee to Halt Useless College Killings). She led the battle cry to make hazing illegal; at the time of her son’s death it was illegal in only three states.
She spoke to college students, year after year, until she retired from the speaking circuit. After all, her message was one that needed to be told year after year as the membership changed and a new crop of members came into the chapters. She spoke at fraternity and sorority conventions.
Alpha Phi asked her to become a special (alumna) initiate and she accepted the invitation. In 1994, Alpha Phi honored her with its Ivy Vine Award. She was honored with many fraternal awards.
None of those awards, none of the accolades she received for telling her story again and again, would bring her son back. She could only hope that in barring her intense pain she could save another mother from the same fate. I am in awe of her steadfastness of purpose. I believe that she did indeed save some mothers from travelling the road she had walked down. I am sorry for your loss, Mrs. Stevens, and I thank you for your service to the fraternity and sorority world.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2016. 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/