Samuel Becker ‘75: The greatness of the institution made me who I am today

When Samuel Becker ‘75 (Becker@blankrome.com) started college in 1971, there were no smartphones, texting, or email. “In fact,” he said, “Those in the dorms spoke to our parents once a week on Sunday. Unless you had friends in State College, you were on your own in a new world with a roommate you didn’t know.”  

“I wasn’t interested in pledging in the fall, but the only fraternity house I knew of was Beta Sigma Rho. One of my high school friends, David Casnoff (may he rest in peace), was a legacy and one of my father’s best friends, Art Russakoff, had a son Harvey who graduated in 1971 before I started. From my dad’s point of view, Harvey was a good reference, it was a Jewish fraternity and if I wanted to join I could.”  

Becker pledged in the winter of 1972 in a class of three, with only two still there by initiation. “I became a brother in time to find out that Beta Sigma Rho was merging with another national Pi Lambda Phi. My pledge brother disaffiliated in a year or so.” 

So, in fall of 1972, they moved into a house that was fairly empty. “We had 29 students at one point,” he said. “There were financial problems and while David Rosenberg ‘74 did a great job rushing pledges, we were an organization in trouble.  A group of alums headed by Gene Chaiken ‘62, Marty Leonard and Richard Grossman ‘54 talked to our bank and guaranteed the loan. They also knew they needed to bring in a leader at the alumni level who could get things under control. They turned to David (“El Dirt Diablo”) Lipson.” 

Becker remembers that by the end of 1973, the alumni told the actives that they needed to take in Pi Lam members since Pi Lam did not have a house in State College but had one at the Altoona Campus. “Pi Lam gave us a wide mix of characters from academic types to Denny who wanted to be a State Trooper to Wild Bill,” he remembers. “The cultural clash was enormous. Not so much with the guys who moved into the house, but with the onslaught of Pi Lams from Altoona who wanted to take over the house on weekends and wanted us to host them. Needless to say, they were bigger drinkers than the Jewish kids from PA, NJ, and NY.” 

The 1974-1975 school year was the year that change began. “Dirt was alumni president,” he says, “Alan (Baumus) Greenbaum was alumni treasurer, and I had been elected undergraduate treasurer in the spring of 1974. Beta Sigma Beta (as it was now known because we couldn’t use the Rho and we were the Beta chapter of Beta Sigma Rho) began the process of splitting from Pi Lam and being independent. I was involved for the undergraduates.” 

Several years later, after Becker became a lawyer, he helped document the buying of the fraternity house and securing the permission to be an independent chapter. “We formed the Beta State Foundation and we raised money to fix the house,” he said. “I served on the Alumni Board for about 15 years starting in 1979 and served as alumni vice president and then alumni president for the two school years of 1987-1989.” 

 “What was special to me about Beta Sig was the number of alums and brothers in the classes of 1973 and 1974 who mentored me and helped me grow from the 17-year-old kid I was when I started pledging to the man I became. That was the greatness of the institution and I hope it continues.” 

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