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Joe Gradisher ’79 recalls his days at Delta Chi

I came to the University of Michigan in the Fall of 1975 from my hometown of Muskegon, Michigan. I was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps program. That resulted in a career of service in and for the Navy, but more on that later.

I lived in Bursley, up on North Campus my freshman year and enjoyed that quite a bit. Looking ahead to the next year, however, the dorm wasn’t going to work anymore. So, I went exploring that January (1976) and I found myself in the Greek system Rush. At one of the events, I ran into a couple guys that I knew from the Michigan Men’s Glee Club (future brothers Brian Barrie ‘78 and Rob Vonderhaar ‘75) and they told me about Delta Chi. Turned out, at the time, the house also had a few guys I knew from the ROTC program. It seemed the right fit on multiple fronts. I also liked the fact that it was a small house, compared to the others I’d visited. They offered and I pledged.

I’d gone looking for a place to live and found a family… and a lifetime of brotherhood.

We had a good-sized pledge class… about 10 guys. Our pledge project was fixing up what was then the old TV room on the back of the house. By that time, the house was pretty run down. We did our best to keep it looking nice, but maintenance was a constant. At one point during the three years I lived there, we even had to replace the drain pan under the shower… it was threatening to crash through the floor.

As those of us who lived in the old house know, the rooms were all named. The first year I lived with Ernie Lueder ’78 on the third floor in what was then called “Tower.” The next year Tower was renamed “Harbor Lights” after the Boz Skaggs album and the fact that Ernie had an aquarium built into a bar in the room. Ernie was “Mr. Mellow” and a great roommate.

The next year, I ended up in South Quad, then a double on the second floor. Brian Barrie ’78 was my roommate first semester and Danny Springer ’81  the second. I used to drive Danny nuts because I’d start writing 10-page papers the night before they were due. He was a Naval Architecture major… and I was a Speech major. Writing came naturally for me.

Senior year, I ended up in “69” – the single at the top of the stairs on the third floor. That room took its name from the famous Michigan Football win over Ohio State in 1969… Bo beat Woody for the first time.

During my time, we carved 2 rooms out of the old “Upper Dorm.” The first, “Lighthouse,” was named based on its location on the top floor (with a window facing Hill Street), but also on the fact that first occupant, pledge brother Brad Fayette, kept winning the “Light” award at chapter meetings.

The other room we built for Steve Hook ‘82, and we named it “Heaven” to balance “Hell” in the basement. By that point, the old “Lower Dorm” was called “Middle Earth” so it all fit nicely.

I could tell countless stories of the years in the house… too many to fit here. Fortunately, a lot of that time is reviewable. Pledge brother David Nehmer ’79 was a photography major and took hundreds of shots. Another pledge brother, Rick Mousseau ‘79, later took Dave’s photos, arranged them, matched appropriate music from the era with each section, and made them in a 2.5-hour video, “Delta Chi – A Retrospective.”  We’ve pulled it out at homecoming a few times over the years.

A few things do stand out, however. 

With all the Glee Club guys in the house, we became well known for our Sorority serenades. Unlike the other fraternities (who would show up drunk and didn’t really “sing”), we’d show up in suits and ties, and sang four-part harmonies. The sisters loved it!

John Henry Russell was still our cook through most of that time. What a pleasure it was to get to know JR. He lived in the front room, next to the dining room, which meant it was a little noisy for him when we had parties and turned the dining room into a dance floor. Saturday Night Fever and disco ruled at the time! John would eventually head out to the Del Rio to get away from the noise.

John made great food and would never hesitate to lecture us when necessary – “This ain’t no hotel.” “You know that’s right.”  I can still hear him to this day. We couldn’t enter the dining room for dinner until he gave the okay to ring the bell… and we always sang “The Bond” at the end of the meal. JR really kicked it into high gear, though, when we’d have an exchange dinner with a sorority. He’d serve duck as the main course!  What fraternity anywhere gets duck?

One more JR story. One Christmas break, John Henry said he had a half of a side of beef that he would give us if someone picked him up from his home in Rural Retreat, Virginia. After talking it over, there was only one thing we could do… ROAD TRIP! A handful of us rented a 26 ft. Champion RV and set off from Ann Arbor after the first of the year. We stopped first in Washington, D.C. to pick up Kendall Russell ‘77. Kendall’s dad was a 2-star Air Force General living on Bolling Air Force Base at the time. With Kendall onboard, we made our way to JR’s house. What a treat to see where he came from and to meet some of his family! With the beef and JR loaded, we headed back to A2… and made it to Lima, Ohio before breaking down. It ended okay... we eventually made it back… and made lots of memories in the process.

So much more I won’t go into… football games, Fall Fest tricycle races in the living room, Spring Fest on the front lawn, Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale, toga parties (Animal House came out while I was there… from the theme song, “At Delta Chi you can’t go wrong!”), homecomings, pledge formals, and on and on. Best of all, the experiences were shared with my brothers and sisters (Chi Delphia) at Delta Chi.

But life has a way of keeping things moving.

I graduated from LS&A on April 28, 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications and Theatre, with a concentration in Radio, TV and Film. (I’d spent a lot of time watching movies and directing television shows in the Frieze Building.) That degree set me up for what would eventually be my life-long avocation. 

The day of graduation, I was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy in a ceremony in Rackham Auditorium and set out on a Navy career that lasted just over 26 and a half years. Within a couple weeks, I was reporting onboard USS Jonas Ingram (DD-938), an old destroyer then in the shipyards in Charleston, SC, and later homeported in Mayport, FL. I spent 4 years aboard that ship, making deployments to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. I served as Gunnery Officer, then as the Boilers Officer/Main Propulsion Assistant (finally proving that I was not cut out to be an engineer), and finishing as the Navigator and Administrative Department Head.

While on my shore tour in Washington, DC, I was finally able to change my career field and became a Navy Public Affairs Officer (PAO). A PAO is one of  the “official Navy spokesmen” you see quoted in news media.

Beginning with my first job as a PAO, I had many tours of duty at the Navy’s Office of the Chief of Naval Information (CHINFO) in the Pentagon, eventually serving as the Deputy to the Chief of Information, the second most senior person in the Navy’s Public Affairs community.

In 1986, I left CHINFO and went to Naval Training Center Great Lakes, just north of Chicago. There, my life changed even more. Within the first couple days on base, I met Lieutenant Bonnie Orr. By July 4th we were engaged and by January 1987, married. Bonnie was a single mother and I was honored to adopt her daughter Becky as my own. We also added daughter Jen to the family while there.

Both Becky and Jen ended up graduating from Michigan State, and are very successful in their fields.  Becky is the assistant director of Student-Athlete Support Services at Colorado State, and Jen oversees the volunteer crews that build and repair trails in the Seattle area for the Washington Trails Authority. I couldn’t be prouder of them!

Delta Chis in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room from L-R: Dave Nehmer '79, Rick Mousseau '79, Mark Nehmer '80, and Joe Gradisher '79

A succession of eventful Navy tours followed Great Lakes: 2 years in the Philippines as the traveling PAO for the U.S. 7th Fleet; a Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.; time on the Department of Defense staff in the Pentagon (I was the lead Pentagon spokesman for the military’s operations in Somalia); more time in CHINFO; a job in Norfolk, VA as the lead PAO for 6 aircraft carriers; time in our Bureau of Personnel; and then the tour as CHINFO Deputy (3 and a half years in what normally would be a one year posting).

It was during that last tour that terrorists decided to fly a plane into the Pentagon, hitting in the area where my office was located. If that plane had gone an additional 50 feet or so, it would have been under my feet. We were fortunate, however. Everyone in our office escaped unharmed.

I finished my Navy career (retiring as a Captain, equivalent to a full “bird” Colonel in the Army) in 2005 after serving two years as the Commanding Officer of the Naval Media Center in Washington. In that job, I was in charge of the Navy’s official website, magazines, television and radio programming. All the sailors that worked in the American Forces Radio and Television System Network around the world worked for me… and I got to visit them all. That Speech Communications degree from Michigan served me well.

After a 4-year stint trying corporate communications, I was fortunate enough in 2009 to be hired back by the Navy as a civilian public affairs specialist... and I’ve been doing that ever since. It’s basically the same type of job I did on active duty. I work for a Navy Vice Admiral (3-stars). She is the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and the Director of Naval Intelligence, among other things. I’m still in the Pentagon. Still having fun.

Now, at age 60, I’m contemplating retiring at some point and going back home to Muskegon, where Bonnie now lives, but who knows where fate may lead.

Over all those years, however, Delta Chi has continued to be a vital part of my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to get back to the house many times over the years, and have been enjoyed meeting those who have followed in our footsteps.

Best of all, I’ve managed to stay in contact with many of the brothers from my time, particularly Rick Mousseau ‘79, Dave Nehmer ‘79, Brian Barrie ‘78, and my “little brother”- and fellow Navy vet - Brian Durham ‘79 (BD).

You never know when you are going to see a brother.

BD and I managed to see each other off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon in 1982 when both our ships were on the gun line off that troubled country. And I ran into my “big brother” - Terry Haid – at a Navy/Industry event here in Washington the first week of April… small world, indeed.

At homecoming (I still am a Michigan Football season ticket holder and I drive back to Ann Arbor for most home games) and other recent events (the opening of the new house!), I’ve been able to see so many other of my brothers from those days living at 1705 Hill. In many respects, it is like we’ve never left when we all get back together.

Before I wrap this up, permit me to get a bit philosophical…

Looking back at it, Delta Chi prepared me well for my life. Walking through that front door and onto the red carpet for the first time, I joined and lived with a group of guys who I didn’t know. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds and went on to a wide variety of careers. Despite our differences, we learned from each other, we helped each other, we teased each other, and yes, we argued sometimes. But we learned how to respect each other and how to work together for the common good.  

In a Navy career, with frequent moves and an ever-changing lineup of personnel, the lessons I learned at Delta Chi were applied each and every day, whether I realized it or not.

I wouldn’t trade my Michigan Delta Chi experience for anything. The Bond is unbreakable.

With all that said, if you ever find yourself in the DC area… look me up. I live in Arlington, VA, just 2 miles from the Pentagon. I’m always happy to give a tour of the “five-sided puzzle palace” to those looking to see the inside. I also give a pretty good tour of Arlington Cemetery if time permits.

Hope you’ve found my musings of interest.

In the Bond,

Joe Gradisher ‘79