The Decision To Join The Middlebury Brothers Of KDR, And Other Major Life Choices

20 Sep

I was a member of the KDR fraternity at Colgate, and so I know from experience what an amazing thing brotherhood is and how great it is to be part of a Greek organization.  Like anyone else, I had certain fraternity buddies that I was closest to, but every single one of them was my brother.  And the House was your home, whether you lived there or not, any time, any day.  And your brothers are always there for you when you need them.  For many people, there are times when you definitely need them.

So it was with that inherent bias that I (and Carey) always encouraged Jeff to join one of the Middlebury equivalents, which were the coed social houses.  And when he told me that they had a KDR chapter there, I secretly hoped that would be the right fit for him. 

But Jeff was not sold on the concept of joining one.  And by the start of junior year, he hadn’t yet done so.  But I guess the brothers of KDR made some overtures to him that winter, and when Jeff sent me the following email on February 21, 2008, it was clear to me what the right answer was.  For context, Jeff’s loving nickname for me was “Sir” (because I am the opposite of a “Sir”!), and one of his many nicknames for Carey was “Pote”, which Jeff created as a derivation of the word “petite”.  Jeff often called her that too in reference to her slender build:

“Hey Pote and Sir,

I have another moral dilemma.  A couple of my friends really want me to rush and pledge a social house this spring, KDR (Kappa Delta Rho).  The thing is, I don’t really want to, because I have a good social life as it is and don’t want to feel committed to doing certain events on certain days.  Granted, the Greek life here is not nearly as intense as a big school with actual fraternities and sororities—it wouldn’t be that big a commitment at all—but the bottom line is, I’d rather not do it.  Rush week is this upcoming week.  What do you think I should do ?  Jeff”

Our advice was pretty concise.  Do it.  You’ll expand your friendships even more, you’ll have a blast and create many great memories, and the House will be another place you can call home.  You’ll also gain a new group of brothers who will support you if you should ever need them.  I didn’t know that, a year later, Jeff would need them. 

And sure enough, just two days later, we received the following email containing Jeff’s decision.  I think the email illustrates what an extremely thoughtful and introspective person Jeff was:

“Hey Pote and Sir,

Tonight was both an exhilarating and disturbing night.  On the one hand, it was disturbing in that I found out that one of my friends is a heroine addict and pretty prominent in the drug business.  On the other hand, it was exhilarating in that I realized that I can stay true to my convictions and that so many people like me a lot.  I think I will rush KDR.  I told them it’s my birthday a week from Sunday, and they promised to take me to the bar to drink heavily the day I turn 21. 

They also told me that if the reason I’m apprehensive to pledge is because I don’t want to live there next year, don’t worry about it.  I’ll pretty much be able to live where I want next year, and I can tell this is true because everyone at KDR really wants me to join, so they’ll be fine with whatever I want to do.

Anyway, it was just a weird night because I kind of gained a better picture of where certain people will be once out of college.  I’ve been thinking back to your guys’ 25th reunion this summer at Colgate, with you guys seeing all of your classmates that graduated with you.  It’s funny, because I’ve started forming  pictures in my mind of what directions all of my respective classmates will go in the future.  The guy who I found out is a big heroine user really surprised me, but I realized that that’s just what happens sometimes when you go to college.

Dad, I remember this summer at Colgate when you told me that that one weird dude who came up to me and started talking to me ‘was always high when he was at Colgate.’  People choose different routes in life, and it’s up to every one of us to choose the best for each of us.  Me personally, I will probably drink a lot most weekend nights when I go out, because it’s fun in a social setting and just contributes to having a great time, but I would never touch another drug, whether it be marijuana, heroine, or cocaine.  But we have to respect everyone else’s decisions in life.

Anyway, sorry to go off on a tangent, but it’s just what came to my mind as I came back from the Grille tonight.  But in any event, I’m going to the bball game tomorrow at 2 (meeting Jason at 1:30 and bringing him down early so we get good seats).  Then tomorrow night is the Winter ball, which I have tickets for thanks to you guys already buying it for me.  All of my friends are really pumped up for it.  Hopefully, we’ll be in a better mood thanks to Midd’s win, which would be the first NESCAC playoff win in our school’s history (remember last year we lost to Colby in OT).  So we’ll see.

Hope this isn’t too long (because I hate when Mom leaves me really long messages on my phone !).  Jeff”

Jeff (at right), with great friend and KDR brother Andres Gonzalez-Stewart at Midd graduation, May 2009

So what do I take from this incredible email ?  Well, first I’m proud that Jeff was such a deep thinker and so self aware.  I am happy that he realized he could be himself and do only the things he was comfortable doing, and that people would like him for the person he was.  Of course, I was thrilled he decided to rush KDR.  And I am struck by the fact Jeff clearly did not have a judgmental bone in his body.  He observed everything that was going on around him, but he judged no one.

Also, Carey and I were blessed to have the kind of relationship with our son that resulted in our even being in a position to receive such a candid, open email from him.  He literally told us everything during his entire life.  There were no secrets, and we felt so fortunate in that regard.

And lastly, it is ominous to read Jeff’s words discussing the different routes that people take in life.  It is clear that he had absolutely no conception of the tragic, misguided route that he would one day take. He was vibrant, thoughtful, happy and thriving up until his final two months.  It all went down in two short months.

I remember standing up at Jeff’s wake, accepting the heartfelt condolences from the seemingly endless line of people who came to the funeral home.  At one point, I looked up and saw a section of the line with a large number of young men and women who I knew I had never met before.  But I realized immediately that they were the brothers of KDR, who had shown up in force, having made the 4+ hour drive from campus to share their grief with us and to give their love to Jeff, their fallen brother, one final time. 

At the moment this wonderful group of KDR brothers approached me that night, they didn’t know that I was overcome with emotion at the memory of how they were there for Jeff in early February 2009 when he needed their help.  In a situation completely unrelated to anything previously discussed on this blog, Jeff needed urgent transportation assistance from his brothers on short notice. Their overwhelming response blew Jeff away and deeply touched him.  I know this, because as with everything, he told me so. 

In fact, Jeff specifically cited the following brothers to me at that time in reference to their immediate response to help him: Andres Gonzalez- Stewart, Ray Queliz, Ben de Leiris, Blake Johnson, Derek Schlickeisen and Brittany McAdams.  And Jeff thanked Carey and me for encouraging him to join KDR, using this situation as an example of why we were so right. 

I am hopeful that Jeff’s Middlebury classmates who are readers of this blog will make sure that the KDR brothers are aware of and read this post.  That’s because it is my only way to thank them and let them know how deeply grateful our family is for their love and friendship to Jeff during his last year and a half at Midd., and specifically during the time mentioned above.

My KDR brothers at Colgate were a big part of my amazing college experience nearly 30 years ago.  Little did I know then that the 2008-2009 Middlebury brothers of KDR would be just as important to my son all these years later.  It just goes to show that the beauty of brotherhood is timeless.

 

-Rich Klein

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8 Responses to “The Decision To Join The Middlebury Brothers Of KDR, And Other Major Life Choices”

  1. Derek Schlickeisen September 20, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    Mr. Klein,

    Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. It means so much for us to know that we could be a small part of his life in this way. We are thinking of you…

    Derek Schlickeisen

    • kleinsaucer September 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

      Derek- I really appreciate your comment. My only correction is that you and the rest of the brothers were not a small part of Jeff’s life, but rather a large and beautiful part of it !

      All my best,
      Rich

  2. Ben Kraines September 20, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    Mr. Klein,

    Though I graduated from Middlebury before Jeff began, he always touched me with his sweetness and sincerity at our KDR events. I’ll make sure your letter is distributed.

    My Best,

    Ben Kraines

    • kleinsaucer September 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

      Ben- I am touched by your recollection of Jeff in that way. Thank you both for taking the time to share it and also for making sure all the brothers who knew Jeff see the post.

      Sincerely,
      Rich

  3. Jake Oher September 21, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Mr. Klein,

    I know it has been some time since we last spoke but I want you to know that I think of Jeff a lot. I can remember the endless amounts of sleep overs we used to have at your old house and the good times that me and Jeff shared. One of my favorite memories of Jeff was a 3 pointer that he hit in the front gym at Bell when we were on the 8th grade travel team together.

    Jake Oher

    • kleinsaucer September 21, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

      Jake- You were one of Jeff’s earliest friends, and in fact, just recently I came across some photos of you, Jeff, Zack and others on Halloween when you were all in 5th grade. You and Jeff had many great memories together (including that great shot !) . My best to your parents.

      Rich

  4. DBR September 25, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Rich,

    These posts are terrific. It almost keeps him alive in a way, checking this site every so often and seeing something new from you. Isn’t it interesting how this tragedy has sparked such an outpouring of writing from you. I can see the self-published memoir coming. Please continue to update us with these anecdotes and special memories. All the best to the four of you, as always,
    Dan

    • kleinsaucer September 25, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

      Dan- thank you so much for your kind words. You have been a constant voice of support for our family since Jeff left us. You and Andres were Jeff’s two best friends at Midd, and you will always have a special place in our hearts. I’m really glad I found that video footage of you and Jeff at graduation. And you’re right, I also feel like this blog is instrumental in keeping his memory alive.

      All my best,
      Rich

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