Stuart Lessin, M.D. ‘77: Lasting relationships, lessons from trying times

When he arrived at Penn State in the Autumn of 1973, Stuart Lessin did not immediately gravitate to fraternity life. In fact, if not for the persistent urging of a lifelong friend who had pledged during their first semester, he might never have become a Beta Sig: “It was coercion, basically peer pressure. It got to a point where I couldn’t think of a good reason not to. It wasn’t love at first sight. Let’s put it that way.”  Ultimately, he was swayed and pledged in the Spring of 1974, which turned out to be an especially tumultuous era for Greek Life on campus and Beta Sig in particular.  “The heyday of fraternities in the Sixties was in the rearview mirror. Interest and membership in fraternities was dwindling. During my time in the house, Beta Sigma Rho merged with Pi Lambda Phi and for various reasons, the merger didn’t work out well at Penn State. So, the Beta alumni association of Beta Sigma Rho decided to get a divorce from Pi Lambda Phi. I remember the house meeting where we voted to be known as Beta Sigma Beta. “I pledged in the Spring with three other pledge brothers, two of whom left the house immediately after pledging, and most of the big Fall 1973 pledge class left the fraternity house. So, it was a turbulent time and the birth of Beta Sigma Beta as an independent fraternity.”  Before long, the fraternity would face a challenge that made the problems of recruitment and retention seem inconsequential by comparison. In May of 1976, a late-night fire ripped through the house, virtually destroying the entire wing of the house. Fortunately, everyone got out safely, but the property was badly damaged. It was an obstacle that also presented an opportunity.  “We moved back into a less than fully functional fraternity house in the Fall,” he recounts. “And that was a challenge. The president of the Beta alumni association was David Lipson at the time. He really saved the undergraduate chapter, along with the other officers. I was Chancellor, so I was in a leadership position. Working with David during those post-fire days to rebuild the house created a lifelong friendship. It also was a valuable experience in leadership and crisis management, lifelong lessons and that carried with me.”  Stu proudly recalls the various house philanthropic efforts, including participation in the Sy Barash Regatta and a piano concert by Nittany Lions football legend and 1984 Grammy winner Mike Reid. He also fondly remembers good times from the house meetings. “I loved the House meetings. The recording secretaries would provide minutes with jokes that were just so funny I still belly laugh to this day.”  He has served on the Beta Sigma Beta alumni board and keeps in close contact with many brothers. “Because I had such a small pledge class. I basically had friends from years before and after I graduated. Brett Eisman ‘74 has been a close friend, and his son and my son pledged Beta Sig together, and they’re still friendly, so it’s another generation. We go out for crabs every year with a group of Beta Sigs: the Lessins, the Eismans, the Russakoffs, and the Bergers. My former roommates, Sam Becker ‘75 and David Ladov ’75, often have dinner with me, Harvey Russakoff ’71, David Rosenberg ‘74, and Rick Etskovitz ‘ 76.  Of his time in Happy Valley, he says, “The more I look back, the more I appreciate the privilege of spending four carefree years in Happy Valley. I really enjoyed every moment.”  Stu graduated from Penn State in 1977 with a degree in biology. He then attended medical school at Temple University followed by training as a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania. He spent over three decades working in academic medicine before transitioning to his current role. He and his wife, Karen (who he met as a freshman outside Hastings Hall), now own and operate a clinical research facility for testing skin products for pharmaceuticals, cosmetic, and personal care product companies.
Author: betasigmabeta