The Great Pine Tree Heist of Christmas

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Thanks to Craig Koerpel ’67 for sharing his best Beta memory (taken from The Shrine newsletter, November 2010):

It used to be that the Beta Christmas party was a legendary December event. The Friday night before Saturday’s fiesta, our pledges were enlisted to erect a false ceiling of heavy wire in the house living room. A group of actives would then go on a “stealth mission” to cut pine boughs from trees as close to Granville as possible. They would bring the boughs back to be interlaced in the wire until the entire ceiling was green and bushy. Dinner tables were set up and by candlelight—the atmosphere would melt the heart of even the most aloof of sorority dates!

A U-Haul or similar vehicle was rented for bringing pilfered pine back to the house. Each year it was necessary to go further from campus because the supply of nearby evergreens had become depleted over time. The lumbering adventure was always proceeded by consumption of Christmas spirits at a Newark pub…which was where the decision got made on exactly where the annual “tree-trimming” was to occur. I made the bough crew in 1965. That was the year eight of us sat around a table at “Tony’s” with $0.25 drafts and someone recalled spotting a suitable pine grove less than 15 minutes from campus. What great news! It allowed us to spend an extra hour discussing world affairs in Newark rather than driving to raid a Christmas tree farm on the far side of Columbus.”

How previous brothers had missed the patch of pines we agreed to scalp that night was a mystery. It really was close. It took no time at all for us to get there, strip off a trailer full of lower branches, and speed back to the house. When we got there the screen ceiling was up and the pledges quickly wove the boughs into place. The following evening the dining room looked absolutely fantastic, the party was a great success, and we eight midnight woodsmen were lauded for our contribution to the festivities.

The jubilation lasted less than 48 hours. On Monday morning Alpha Eta’s president was contacted by the Dean of Men. After confirming that the Beta Christmas party had been its usual success – aided in large measure by the sight and smell of a freshly cut pine ceiling – Dean Smith advised that the University was compelled to add a bit of a surcharge to the cost of our holiday party. The trees we had pillaged turned out to be part of a special Denison biological reserve…a grove that had taken YEARS to coax to maturity! Each member of the house got assessed some dollar amount that has long since escaped me. What I do remember, however, was Dean Smith’s closing salvo in his written admonishment to the Beta house…”There are pine saps and there are saps of another ilk. In the future I suggest you keep them from mingling!”