Alumni seek to revive senior society

With a publicity campaign targeted at Yale undergraduates, a group of alumni is trying to relaunch a not-so-secret society.

After over 40 years of inactivity, Desmos, one of the first senior societies at Yale, may soon see a revival. Several of the its original members are attempting to resurrect the society they remember so fondly, either by merging with an existing society or starting one from scratch. Their efforts have included placing advertisements in the News, posting fliers around campus and contacting alumni.

“We are a bunch of old guys thinking about the good times of the past,” Joel Schiavone ’58, who went on to found a chain of nightclubs called “Your Father’s Mustache,” said.

Mark Dolhopf, director of the Association of Yale Alumni, said societies have tried to revive themselves in the past — with varying success. In the 1990s, Mace and Chain was similarly revived, Dolhopf said, though children of some former society members were enrolled at Yale at the time and helped recruit new members.

For their part, Schiavone and two other former members, Chris Cory ’63 and Bob Olmstead ’61, are recruiting undergraduates by seeking out seniors in existing societies and juniors thinking about starting their own societies.

“The only stipulation is that the organization is going to be called Desmos,” Schiavone said.

Desmos is a Greek word for friendship, and its logo is the Greek letter delta. Founded in 1950, it has 150 living alumni, Olmstead said. And Cory said there are 300 alumni in total.

Olmstead, a former professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, said the three will begin fundraising in January in order to eventually make the society self-sufficient. They aim to rent an apartment for the society’s operations by raising money from alumni.

He declined to comment on the amount of money the society currently has.

Desmos has not officially declared itself a society, Olmstead said, as they want to ensure students are interested.

“You can’t raise money on the basis of something that might happen — it has to be on the basis of something that will happen,” Olmstead said. “There has to be a group of students with a pledge.”

While the society was originally all male, Olmtead said they are looking for a roughly equal distribution of men and women.

Olmstead said he has been working on Desmos’ revival for three years. Three years ago, he found out that the society had disappeared and decided to bring it back to campus.

“It had literally dropped off the map,” he said. “No one knew of the records and memorabilia.”

Though he said he does not know for certain how or why the society disappeared, Olmstead said that during the late 1960s and early 1970s, many societies vanished under financial pressures. And he said when Robert Porter, then dean of Davenport College, who maintained the society’s connections with its alumni, resigned around 1969, Desmos members began to lose touch.

But for Olmstead, Cory and Schiavone, Desmos was an integral part of their Yale experience.

In the past, Olmstead said, Desmos members were active in campus life, but not “the elitists or the ‘big men’ on campus.” And the society had no official hierarchy, he said.

“We didn’t want stardom,” he said. “We wanted a group of interesting people.”

Cory, a spokesman for Pace University, said while he was a student at Yale, his social circle was limited to members of the News, for which he was executive editor. But being a part of Desmos, he said, allowed him to meet a variety of students with diverse interests.

“I never played basketball before, but my athlete friends in Desmos encouraged me to do so and it turned out to be a lot of fun!” Cory said. “It taught me to stop judging books by their cover.”

Cory said the members used to meet twice a week and also had dinner on Sunday nights. Porter, who was also a faculty advisor at that time, sometimes cooked for the members and had a loft several blocks from campus, which could hold up to 18 people and was a social gathering place for the members.

At Thursday night meetings, members spoke about themselves and got advice from others.

“It had certain aspects of group therapy,” Cory said.

Last year in Chicago, all 15 members of the class of 1961 showed up to a reunion, which Cory said demonstrated their commitment to the society.

And though Olmstead said Desmos has many generous alumni, it is often difficult to communicate with these donors.

“A lot of these older men don’t have e-mails,” Olmstead said. “I haven’t written so many letters in a long time!”

Comments

  • Alum

    How many societies are there now, a couple of dozen? They should merge with one of the more established underground societies and provide them with housing. No neeed for an entirely new group

  • DoodleLover

    One thing’s for certain – students’ lack of interest will not be a problem.

  • eliyale

    DESMOS:

    1. a band, bond, fetter; a halter; a mooring cable; a door-latch.

    2. bonds, imprisonment.

    - Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon