My Dad (Pop) was my childhood hero, and I wanted to be just like him. The only fault I could find in him at the time was he was always working too hard. When I was a very young boy World War II was at its’ peak, and Pop was one of the few physicians left in El Dorado to care for the medical needs of the area. He was a little too old to serve in the military and had 3 dependent children in addition to a very large medical practice. Our birth mother (Mimi) had died at age 37 in 1941 from breast cancer, and Pop married our step-mother (Mom) in June, 1944. His Dad (Dr. J. A.) died in September, 1944 and left Pop with all of his patients and in addition to his own, the medical practice was huge.
As a young boy the only time I remember seeing Pop was in the evening when he would come home for supper, and we would all sit down for a meal together. On occasion when Pop would go on a house call in the early evening, he would allow me to go with him and carry his bag, which to me was large and very heavy! I loved going because his patients would always treat me nicely and frequently call me “Little Doc”. As I learned the names of the supplies, he would say, “John Henry, hand me the stethescope or give me the syringe for an injection.” I was his right hand assistant, or so I believed!
From my very earliest remembrance Pop wore a special ring on his ring finger. It was purchased in the early 1920’s when he pledged the SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) fraternity at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. It served as a sort of wedding band when he and Mimi eloped to be married in 1924 while both were students. I believe he did purchase Mimi a very modest wedding ring at the time. I do know he later purchased her a much nicer diamond engagement ring and a wedding band. Pop continued wearing his SAE ring and apparently saw no need for switching to a wedding band.
I was always intrigued by his SAE ring and occasionally had him remove it for me to get a closer look. He would tell me stories about his fraternity; how much the friendships made then meant to him and what a good experience the fraternity was for him. He knew how much I liked the ring and once told me, “When you get to college and if you happen to pledge into SAE, I will give you this ring.” As a young boy I had no idea what all that entailed, but I knew one thing; I loved that ring!
When I finally graduated from high school in 1957 and made the decision to attend the University of Arkansas, the question of whether I would pledge into a social fraternity suddenly became a priority. I knew I was going to major in pre-med studies with an eye on a medical career, but I also wanted to have a good time on the journey. Just before leaving home Pop said, “If you want to pledge into a fraternity it will be fine with me, but be sure to give the SAE’s a good look. I believe they are still one of the top fraternities.” I did discover they were the best fit for me, and along with Jim Weedman, my best friend from El Dorado I decided to join. When I called Pop and Mom to tell them my decision, I also reminded Pop of his promise to give me his ring! Surprisingly he said he would keep his promise. When he and Mom came to Fayetteville for his one and only visit while I was in college, he gave me the ring which he had worn for at least 30 years!
I became a loyal fraternity member during those college years and was the only one in the fraternity house who had a special ring. During the very lean financial years of medical school I felt enough loyalty to send the fraternity a $10 donation when I received one of their many solicitation letters. At the time $10 represented a huge sum of money for me.
When Cathy and I married in 1965, she gave me a gold wedding band, and I switched wearing the SAE ring to my right ring finger. I wore the ring more out of respect for Pop and his memory than I did for any continuing loyalty for the fraternity.
In the early 1980’s I received a particularly disturbing solicitation letter from the fraternity chapter in Fayetteville in which the president of the chapter wrote, “I have been asked by some if we allow our members to drink alcoholic beverages in the fraternity house. Our policy is yes we do allow our men to drink in house in order to train them to drink like men.”
I was infuriated by such a flippant answer and wrote a letter to the president stating my strong objection. I said among other things, “Real men are men of character and would never consider being trained in the art of drinking beverage alcohol if there is such an art. I am saddened by your attitude and no longer support the work of your fraternity. Please remove my name from your mailing list, and if you would, please send me back by only contribution of 10 dollars. given 15 years ago!” With that I removed the SAE ring and it remains today in my jewelry box in fond memory of Pop. The ring is now approximately 100 years old, and I can’t bring myself to throw it away. Cathy and our children can decide what they want to do with it when I am gone.
I am strongly opposed to social fraternities and sororities such as the ones at the University of Arkansas and am grateful our children did not want to join them when they were in college. Some of their tenets violate several of my strongly held Christian convictions so my opinion about them won’t change. I do; however have fond memories of my days at the SAE house, and certainly made a number of life-long friendships.The beautiful colonial style house I lived in for 2 years still stands at 110 Stadium Drive in Fayetteville.