July 4th, 67 Years Apart, Coolidge and Gehrig, Phi Gam and Phi Delt

John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., the 30th President of the United States, 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.

The postcard reads “To Phi Gamma Delta, With best wishes” and is signed by the President. He was proud of his affiliation with the Fraternity and he and his wife were the first President and First Lady to have been initiated into GLOs as college students. George W. and Laura Bush were the only other pair to make that claim.

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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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.

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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-eight 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 trophies—that’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.

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