Overcoming a sordid past 

City Sage

At a recent nonprofit roast honoring Colorado Springs business leader Marvin Strait, someone mentioned the El Paso Club. Strait belonged to the exclusive club for many years, but ultimately resigned because a majority of members refused to change with the times and admit women.

"Pam is a superwoman," said one of the participants, praising University of Colorado at Colorado Springs chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak. "She can do anything — except join the El Paso Club."

Once the go-to place for the city's power elite, the club is now a quaint reminder of an exclusionary past. Today's movers and shakers are more likely to be found a block away at Wild Goose Meeting House, where the morning crowd often includes such luminaries as Darsey Nicklasson, Kristy Milligan, Susan Edmondson and Hannah Parsons. If the club has a civic purpose, it's preserving its historic building at the corner of Tejon and Platte.

Alas, providing a refuge to troglodytes isn't a civic purpose.

I grew up in that exclusionary era, attending a boys' boarding school and a men's college, Wesleyan University in Connecticut. I joined a fraternity at Wesleyan, Psi Upsilon. To give you a sense of the times, here are the lyrics of a song that we learned as pledges:

"On the steps of Psi U / Crying like hell / Lies a newborn baby / Listen to the sonofabitching bastard yell / Now who can be his father? / Maybe it's you / Just another bastard son of old Psi U / And who can be his mother? / That's important too / Just another girl who went down for Psi U!"

I recited the dismaying lyrics to current and former colleagues at the Business Journal, wondering what they'd say.

"That's the most disgusting thing I've ever heard," said Cameron Moix, 25.

"That's totally disgusting," said Amanda Miller Luciano, 34.

In 1958 I thought the lyrics were funny. In 1958, I assumed that I'd join the El Paso Club someday, as had my grandfather and great-uncle. Fifty-seven years later, the lyrics are despicable and the club is irrelevant.

Men-only fraternities have mostly disappeared at Wesleyan, which has admitted women for decades and has a reputation as one of the most socially progressive colleges in America. After alcohol-fueled sexual assaults at Beta Theta Pi and Psi Upsilon, Wesleyan sanctioned both and decreed that all fraternities must go co-ed or shut down.

In my time Psi U was a popular party house, home to seemingly stupid frat boys who went on to illustrious careers. Of the 17 freshmen who pledged Psi U in 1958, I was the last one chosen, and only made it because brother Ed Chalfant cited my behavior during a pledge week party.

"The kid wore a blue button-down shirt and drank seven beers," said Chalfant. "I say we take him."

As you'd expect, Ed is now a retired Episcopal bishop.

Psi U, first established at Wesleyan in 1843, is complying with Wesleyan's mandate. That's great — I'm glad that the fraternity is officially growing up.

This week the Wesleyan women's lacrosse team is in Colorado Springs, playing Colorado College on Tuesday and Thursday. It's a wonderful reminder of how much the world has changed since 1958, when Wesleyan had no women, no women's sports and certainly no team that traveled 2,000 miles to play a match in Colorado.

I'll be on the sidelines to cheer on my alma mater but, given my affection for Colorado College, I hope the teams split the series. If I were a member of a reformed, non-exclusionary El Paso Club, and if I were as rich as brother Michael Bay (he makes big, noisy movies), I'd invite both teams to a reception there. But I don't think that many of those proud young women would want to hang out at a club that bars their sex from membership.

Anyway, Wesleyan's tough-minded coach might keep her players on a tight leash while on the road. Like her dad, who graduated from Wesleyan in 1975, Amanda Belichick captained a Wesleyan lacrosse team during her senior year.

And yeah, her dad is New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, the man whom Broncos fans fear, envy and loathe. So come down to the game — it'll be fun! It's open to all, El Paso Club members included. And maybe we can all go hang out at Tony's or the Wild Goose afterward.

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