Retirement brings 1960s Clemson fraternity brothers back
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Bobby Ballentine did not plan on joining a fraternity when he was walking with his roommate on the Clemson College campus in the spring of 1961.
He went past a fraternity recruitment event being held by Kappa Delta Chi. It was the first official rush for the newly founded group, and Ballentine was invited in by Bob Newton, one of the original brothers.
That ended up shaping the entire course of his life.
“I would have hated to have gone through life and not have these acquaintances,” Ballentine said.
He ended up marrying Newton’s sister, and the couple has been together 55 years. Three fraternity brothers were in their wedding.
Ballentine ended up working in Easley and then in Georgia before heading back in 1981 to Clemson, where his journey and fraternity brotherhood has come full circle.
And he’s not alone. Despite graduating in the 1960s and traveling the country pursuing various careers, a dozen members of Kappa Delta Chi, or KDX, have returned to the Clemson area for retirement.
“One by one, two by two, we made the decision to move back to Clemson and reconnect with our brotherhood,” said Gary Faulkenberry, who graduated from Clemson in 1965. The name changed from Clemson College to Clemson University in 1964.
Today, many of the brothers get together to go out to shows and dinner. Half a dozen of the men are in leadership positions at Clemson United Methodist Church.
Doug Richardson, who graduated in 1964, was president of the fraternity when he was in school. He moved back to Clemson in 2001 to become director of finance and administration for Clemson University’s Institutional Advancement Division.
Richardson said he did not expect so many of the men to come back, “but by golly it’s what’s happened.”
KDX was founded at Clemson in 1959 and then became part of the Sigma Nu fraternity in 1970.
Even as students, KDX members were a “close group of guys,” Faulkenberry said.
Paul Burnette graduated from Clemson in 1966. He spent time in the Air Force before getting his doctoral degree and working as a teacher for more than 30 years before moving back to Clemson with his wife.
Burnette was from the small town of Blackville, South Carolina, so going to Clemson was a bit of a jump, he said. The fraternity gave him a smaller family on campus to get to know.
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Burnette said the KDX brothers helped one another through challenges with family, friends and girlfriends and gave each other the “skinny” on what professors to seek while in college. They also studied together, watched TV together, volunteered in Greenville together and would go get burgers before playing cards until 3 or 4 a.m. some nights.
For more than 40 years, a group of the brothers has hosted a homecoming picnic, complete with barbecue, beer and a growing number of family members. That used to be where the brothers caught up with one another, but then they started seeing one another at funerals.
Faulkenberry said it was important for the brothers to get together outside of those sad events, so they started holding more reunions. From May 5 to 7, the brothers who live in Clemson and those who do not gathered at the Madren Center for a few days of dinners, campus tours and chances to catch up.
“Unfortunately, when we get together, we have to acknowledge people we lost,” Faulkenberry said.
In 2008, one of the KDX brothers died, and it inspired members to start a scholarship to give back to the university. As of June 2018, the scholarship endowment had reached $181,000 with contributions from about 50 percent of the more than 150 KDX members, brother Jerry Handegan said. In 2019, the scholarship was able to award $5,418 combined to 11 recipients. Since the scholarship fund is unrestricted, the university can use it as needed, Handegan said.
Handegan graduated from Clemson in 1965 with a degree in industrial engineering. He moved back to Clemson in 2006 after a career in the textile industry. His wife is from Clemson, and her cousin was a past president of KDX.
As a new group of Clemson students gets ready to graduate, Handegan said it is natural for people to part ways after college but that does not mean their stories have to end.
“You form some relationships in college that really aren’t nurtured as you graduate, but as life goes on, people end up back in the same places and you can renew relationships,” he said. “Many people I have gotten close with I didn’t know in school. The special connection (with KDX) made it easier to become good friends.”
Information from: The Greenville News, http://www.greenvillenews.com