A Testament to DU

From Rob Gussas ‘84

Rob Gussas ‘84
Rob Gussas ‘84

When I left for UND in the fall of 1980, my mother said, “Don’t you dare join one of those fraternities! I will cut you out of the will!” The only thing I knew about fraternities was from the movie Animal House. I had no idea what a will was and didn’t really care! If it was not for people like Greg Mason ’83 and Brian Poykko ’78 who relentlessly recruited me, I likely would have moved from the dorms to an apartment at some point. Rather, I moved into the house in spring semester 1981 and did not move out until graduation in May 1984. During Rush in the fall of 1980, I found the brotherhood of this non-secret (which appealed to me) fraternity to be real. We were known as the, “Gentleman’s Fraternity that always had the highest-grade point.” I really liked the other pledges in my group and I remain close to many of them today. It was the best to have approximately 40 guys in house (and more that lived elsewhere) around almost all the time. Whether it was to go study, go to hockey games, play intramurals, go out or just share ideas and debate among friends. These were some of the best times of our lives! I was in that phase of no longer a kid, but not yet a real adult. None of us had a lot of worries, pressure or other adult things to get in the way.

The impact that DU had on me as an undergraduate was way more than I ever anticipated as a pledge. Frankly, it’s immeasurable! Let’s start with what I learned at our Monday night formal dinner and meetings. My learning and development would soon be put to use when I started my professional career. Not everyone had mastered the art of tying a tie correctly. Training on table etiquette was again something I did not anticipate needing until I got out in to the real world. I reflected upon that throughout my business career and the corporate dinners I attended. Our Monday night formal meetings were where I learned much more about how meetings should run. We had learned, “Robert’s Rules of Order” which again became helpful later in life, especially with the non-profit organizations I have been involved with since college. Then there is leadership. I recall an upperclassman one day telling me that someday he saw me in a leadership role within the house. I think I swallowed really hard at that time as I had never even thought of it. Later when I was the treasurer, three of us attended RLS (Regional Leadership Seminar) in Denver. At that seminar, it was discussed that we needed a Regional Undergraduate Advisory Board (UGAB) member. I thought, “What the heck? Let’s see what this is all about!” So, after being nominated and squaring off with other candidates, I was eventually elected. At the UGAB meeting with all the regional leaders, it was discussed that we needed to elect a leader among the nine regional guys. Despite what seemed like everyone wanting to be elected, somehow, I prevailed and became the UGAB Director. This also put me on the DU International Board of Directors. The experience was terrific and I got to see how things worked and learn from the Directors themselves. It also helped that Russ Grundhauser ’83 was on the field staff. He would enlighten me on many things that I did not have exposure to or needed to know when going into meetings.

Now, let’s discuss rush. I am sure I was like others my first fall rush as an active and somewhat nervous about trying to identify suitable candidates and then sell them on why DU would be right for them. Again, this training helped me in my 35-year career at Procter & Gamble as I recruited on and off campuses for future leaders. Further, I learned from others who took leadership roles on campus because DU had the IFC president, the Student Body President and BSOP (Board of Student Publications) President and more. Then there were lessons in teamwork…much more than an athletic team. I recall how we would all have house jobs that became critical when were about to begin rush. We wanted to have the house in tip top shape. We would help others if our jobs were done and they needed help.

Further, there were lessons in caring about others. In January of 1981 we were about to begin initiation week. It was my birthday on January 27, I just talked to my grandmother who had called to wish me Happy Birthday. I told her about initiation, how I was going to become an active in this fantastic fraternity and the excitement I had around it! I clearly remember being concerned that she just wasn’t herself when we talked, but did not dwell on that after we hung up. The next morning my mother called to tell me that grandma (her mom) had died in her sleep. I was devastated as it was the first big loss of a loved one for me. To this day I treasure that the fact I was the last one to talk to her. But now I had a conflict with her pending funeral and our formal activation. I will never forget how our then president, Joe Furst ’81 handled my situation with great care and concern. He assured me that everything would be just fine and that he would activate me before I left to be with my family. All the guys in my pledge class were great too. I had gotten to know them all well with the record number of “skips” we had as pledges. The record number of skips is a record I am sure was never broken, ha! While I missed out on the activities of the initiation week, I was grateful to be able to manage these two important life events with a lot of support from my DU Brothers.

I think Dennis Hill ’86 summed it up extremely well when he said: “College prepared me for a career, DU prepared me for life!” My first real test of using some of what I learned was in late May 1984, Xerox (famous for being a premier sales training company) flew me down to Omaha, NE. They had offered me a job and I hadn’t taken it nor declined it. Regardless, I had lunch with the Branch Manager, the Sales Trainer and one other manager. I was in business attire and using the etiquette I learned thanks to our DU Monday Night Dinners & meetings. It was a high-end restaurant and I recall the one guy commenting that he was impressed that I knew which silverware to use for what. At this lunch they put the screws to me to accept their offer and attend a sales training class that was starting in about a week. I didn’t cave to all the pressure and told them I needed to think about it. I really was thinking about going to Colorado to snow ski and bartend or whatever casual work I could get. Upon returning to my hometown, my dad inquired what happened in Omaha. He knew I was thinking about going to Colorado, to which he pointed out the obvious. “You know you no longer have health insurance (it ended right after college in those days) and what happens if you break a leg or something?” While I had other job offers, I elected to take this one. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, because that is where I met my wonderful wife! I spent less than a year at Xerox after being recruited to work at Procter & Gamble. Again, I used many things I learned at DU early on in my career. In the summer of 1996, we lost our six year old son, Kirk to a complex heart disorder. We lived across the street from a 53-acre park known as Dred Scott in Bloomington, MN. Our neighbors, family and friends thought it would be great to do some sort of memorial like a tree or park bench. The interest blossomed and with the teamwork of hundreds we donated two full court basketball courts known as “Kirk’s Hoops”. I will never forget having several of the “DU Boys” in attendance for the dedication. They were among the 150+ people at that dedication. To this day I can’t tell you how much that meant to us! After nearly 40 years out of college, I regularly get together with the, “DU Boys” at UND hockey games, golf trips, hunting adventures and more. It was so great to see and/or talk to some guys as we kicked off this campaign to build a 100-year house! Some I haven’t talked to in 40 years but we caught up our lives in no time and it was as if we resumed things from there.

Karen and I are supporting this campaign for a new 100-year chapter house because the obvious is that our old house was long past its utility. Frankly, it was past its prime when I lived there in the early 80’s. More importantly, it’s to pay it forward so other young men can have the experiences like my fellow brothers and I had during our days at DU, some of which I shared above.

To experience the sense of true brotherhood and lasting friendships over the good and the bad. To help develop future leaders at DU who can go on and do good things with their lives.

We are supporting this campaign to have a fantastic house that helps attract the best and brightest. Goals include making DU the high standard when it comes to reputation on campus and within the community. I also want these young men to make us alumni very proud of what they accomplish representing DU while at UND! Thank you to all who have donated to this important project. We still have time to welcome additional donor names to the recognition list. Please join us!