Developing close friendships in college is not unusual, but often those friendships fade after commencement. Michigan Technological University is a special place and for many, the Houghton experience forged lifelong relationships.
50 Years of Carnival
In 1969, Jim Accetta '73, Carl Benz '73, Dan Bonner '73, and Ed Anderson '72 met in Douglass Houghton Hall (DHH). The men developed an instant bond participating in campus activities, Winter Carnival in particular. In fact, the friends have come back for the event every year.
When Carnival next comes around, it will be Jim and Sally Accetta's 45th consecutive. "Actually, if you count the Carnivals we attended as students, it will be our 50th," Jim Accetta said.
It wasn't statues or parties that brought the friends back initially. At first, the group returned to campus to watch their friend George Lyle play hockey. Accetta says at some point the motivation for their trips changed. "Our friendship was always there, but I don't think we realized what was bringing us back. It isn't about Winter Carnival, but our friendship."
A Team Above All
Initially it was basketball that brought Emily (McClone) Brown '03, Annie (Madden) Pudelko '03, Andrea (Novak) Bonk '03, and Jennifer (Swanson) Essex '04 to Michigan Tech. All varsity basketball players, the women have not only remained friends, but Brown, Pudelko, and Essex actually live in the same neighborhood in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, while Bonk lives in nearby Milwaukee.
"Michigan Tech forged an amazing bond between us. We didn't really make a conscious decision to live within houses of each other, but we're glad it worked out that way," Brown says.
Brown acknowledges the group will sometimes go a month or so without seeing each other (each has three young children), so time spent together is special. "We get together for holidays, and our kids love each other," Brown says.
Tech basketball also plays an important role in the lives of five employees in the Birmingham, Michigan, office of Shift Digital, a cutting-edge digital marketing and technology company.
Mike Kissman '98, Chad Bultynck '98, JT Luginski '03, Brian Dukes '99, and Caleb Lamz '03 played basketball at Tech. They weren't all on the same teams, but they are now. "We play on the Shift Digital team in a pretty competitive eight-team league," Luginski says.
Even Huskies who didn't play together knew each other—a connection that paid off. Dukes, Kissman, and Luginski were working at Ford Direct and joined the startup Shift Digital, with Bultynck, and Lamz coming onboard shortly after.
"We had no idea we'd be working together," Luginski says, adding there's a reason for their closeness. "Living in Houghton four or five years isn't for everybody. Unless you lived there, you don't understand what it's like. We get it."
The Family You Choose
Friends who became family could describe Paul Leach '54 and Dr. Hal Williams '54, forestry majors who ended up sharing a family tree for more than 60 years.
Roommates in Douglass Houghton Hall in 1950, they instantly became best friends—a designation they still bestow on each other. "We did everything together," Williams says. "Played intramural hockey, won the handball championship, and joined Kappa Delta Psi fraternity."
After graduation, Leach traveled the country working for the Bureau of Land Management while Williams went to medical school, eventually establishing a practice in Ithaca, Michigan. Despite the differences in vocations and geography, their paths continued to cross.
"I was working in Alaska while he was in med school," Leach remembers. "For a few summers he would come up and work with me in the woods."
Williams remembers those days as well. "We'd work really hard during the day and then spend our nights fishing."
In the late 1950s, the best friends became family when they married the Laine sisters from Hancock. "I met Cathy at an open skate at Dee Stadium," Leach says. "I introduced Hal to her younger sister Betty."
The one-time fraternity brothers became brothers-in-law. "I always considered him more as my best friend than my brother-in-law," says Williams.
The feeling is mutual. "He's as good as they get," Leach says. "When he played football at Tech, I was the manager. He was my hero."
Sadly, Betty passed away three years ago, but the men still remain close. Leach credits Michigan Tech for their friendship's longevity. "Tech gave us so many opportunities. We had so many things in common and we were able to do so much together."
The men still see each other often, during the winter in Florida where Leach lives and Williams spends a couple of months and during the summer where their friendship began.
"We get together in Hancock," Leach says. "We'll go fishing, or just sit on the porch and talk. We're still best friends."
It's not uncommon for college friends to get together in the years following graduation, but in time, things usually taper off. Two groups of Michigan Tech alumni are making sure that doesn't happen. The 909 Group and some sisters of Alpha Sigma Tau have come up with unique ways to reconnect.
The 909 Group, named for an address on College Avenue, is a group of 12 friends who met at Tech and now vacation together.
All, or at least some, of the married couples and single friends that make up the 909 Group, have participated in trips to the Carolinas, Colorado, Texas, and as far away as Germany and the Czech Republic. That list doesn't include the frequent camping trips members have taken throughout the Midwest.
Natalie (Noha) Bomstad '10 says that following graduation it was important for the friends of the 909 Group to stay in touch. "Your college years have tremendous influence on who you become as an adult. The company you keep is the foundation for who we become as adults," she says.
Bomstad says the nature of life at Michigan Tech fosters such strong connections. "You have the opportunity to get to know people at a deeper level. It's difficult to replicate the strong bonds you build walking through blizzards to class, long hours of homework, numerous team competitions, and late nights that turn into early mornings."
Because of this closeness, Bomstad says the 909 Group members are more than traveling companions. "We have stood side-by-side one another during tough times and popped champagne during times of joy. The 909 has truly been friends that turned into family."
Much like the 909 Group, the annual treks by sisters of Alpha Sigma Tau began as traveled to them all. Next came the process of deciding which state to visit next. At first the vacations were chosen at random, but eventually a system was adopted.
"We picked an order and each year one person is responsible for planning it," Carney says. "The most recent trip was to New Orleans last summer with a trip to the nation's capital on tap for July."
Attending Michigan Tech impacts our graduates for the rest of their lives. And whether it's through communal vacations, frequent family barbeques, or fishing with your best friend of more than 60 years, the bonds formed in Houghton last a lifetime.