Grandpa Joe’s Social Life at College

Anyone as friendly and engaging as my Grandfather Joe Pace would have been a presence on their university campus.  His 1936 and 1937 yearbooks display ample evidence of this.

Firstly, he collected signatures – a lot of them.  Over the two years he averaged more than 150 signatures, most of them from guys.  This reflects his strong involvement in Scouting groups and a college fraternity (yes!  BYU had fraternities!).  In 1936 he got just 41 notes from gals, and improved marginally 1937 to 53.

The comments run on a broad continuum of familiarity, irreverence, and sincerity.  Just like today, if someone writes in your yearbook you have to write in theirs, even if you hardly know them and have nothing to say.  Some people were like that, while others knew Joe very well and had some interesting things to say to him.

He wasn’t exactly BMOC, but Grandpa Joe was socially significant in the BYU ecosystem.  A lot of involvement came through his fraternity, the Brigadiers or “Brigs”.

You already notice that is not the sort of name one expects for a fraternal organization.  BYU did not sponsor Greek fraternities or sororities on campus, but did allow the independent formation of groups (called “Social Units”) that did some of the very same things.

One of those “very same things” was the ritual humiliation of initiation.  I don’t pretend to understand how an organization benefits by degrading or even harming potential members, but the organizers of Social Groups decided that as the Greeks went, so would they.

The yearbook staff poked fun at some of these rituals, demonstrating the same sort of ambivalence that University administration had towards these groups throughout their existence at BYU:


Paddling.  These social units did plenty of other silly things, but the paddles come up over and over in the yearbooks – a leitmotif, almost.


Paddles everywhere.  The pictures appear to be of initiation labors by pledge hopefuls, with the presence of the paddle a totem or symbol of the hopeful’s low status, and perhaps the consequences of poor performance.

The ink-stained wretches on the yearbook staff have chosen their target well.  There’s something inherently ridiculous about this sort of initiation, and it lives in popular consciousness as a symbol of the silliness and excesses of college frat life.  Remember this from the popular film Animal House.  Anyway, I don’t think I would ever go for this sort of thing, but their public nature probably argues for the relative pettiness of the practice.  If there’s really rough stuff, it is usually kept quiet, and these kids did not keep quiet.  These Social Units in general seem to have been pretty tame, even for the time probably, and don’t match much else from what you think of fraternities.

But they still did the hazing.  Indeed, several of Grandpa’s frat mates mention these initiation rituals, and paddles feature prominently, among other things.  This puts Joe in a context rather unfamiliar to us his grandkids.  Here’s four different frat-mates:

…Well, Initiations are over and I’m now a full-fledged Brig, thank the Lord!  My rumble seat is something the worse for wear and my mouth’s still a little bit puckery.

…I think I’ll always remember you as having the hardest wallop with a paddle that I have ever had the pleasure to feel.

…When I was being initiated I felt like bopping you with a brick, but since then I have found out that you are a right guy.

…Although you were one of the villains that left me stranded and without pants, I must say I prize your friendship greatly.

Social life was more than degrading ritual, however, and in his yearbook classmates reminisced about some of the events and experiences.  One or two gals were agreeably pleased to accompany him to dances, and praised his abilities.  Another mentioned the time he took her treasure hunting which, wow, that is so Grandpa Joe.  She also asked how his radio was doing.  Grandpa Joe was a member of the Y Eagles, a club for former Boy Scouts, and even served as scribe one of the years.  Before his senior year he was elected president (or “prexy” as people kept writing in his book) of the Brigadiers, and lots of classmates said they were sure it would be a terrific year with him at the helm. He was also involved in intramural sports, did you know that?  He donned a mask and played catcher in a softball league.

Having access to his dad’s car was a major factor in Joe’s campus presence.  They weren’t as common as they are today – much rarer, in fact, being the height of the Great Depression – and non-resident students certainly wouldn’t have had them.  In “We’re Not Dead Yet”, Grandpa’s co-autobiography, he described pitfalls that went along with the benefits:

We only had one car in the family and I hated having to borrow the car for a date after my brothers had been in it.  It would always reek of smoke.  This was especially embarrassing when I wanted to take out a nice prominent Mormon girl.

Several people (ladies, mostly) didn’t mind the smell and thanked him in the yearbook for the many rides he’d given them to Salt Lake, or just up the hill to class.  I can picture him driving to campus past dozens of befooted classmates, deciding who was eligible enough to merit the invitation. That’s probably what I would have done.  He could also carry a bunch of frat/sorority mates to parties up the canyons or who knows where.  One trip up the canyons, he drove the car over a rockslide that had covered the road.  One Mary Fay even reminisced about the time his car was disabled en route somewhere and she had to get out and push it.  If there’s a boss move bigger than getting a girl to push your car, I don’t know what it is.

Grandpa Joe was also involved in the National Guard – hardly a “social” opportunity, but an experience he shared with many classmates.  In the yearbook (and later in his autobiography) it is described as the “Nasty Guard”.  One mate recounted a very high-profile goof on the marching grounds:

…you gave us our commands and as we were marching you would call “attention” instead of “halt”.

Early on Joe had pondered and planned a career in medicine, despite concerns about his academic aptitudes.  He and many other pre-med classmates suffered through the prerequisite classes, and talked about it as a rite of passage or shared hardship.  Some of the classes were held in the evenings, and a couple friends remarked how often they saw him asleep in class (though how would they know, they were probably asleep too).  However much he struggled, he was a helpful influence on his classmates.  Some thanked him very warmly for saving their bacon in chemistry or the legendary “Zoo 56”.  One classmate was optimistic about Joe’s chances in medicine:

Now, Joe, I’m not one to spread it on but you really have possibilities even if your teachers don’t think so…

His family was known by some of his friends – some were familiar with his sister Kay, some with Grandpa Garland (president of the nearby Utah State Mental Hospital), and some knew his cousins down in Arizona.  His connections got the social group access – one dedication described a tour that some of the Social Units did of the mental hospital.  What a way to meet people.  There’s actually a photo in the 1937 yearbook of Joe’s dad, Grandpa Garland, giving a tour to the student council.  Not the best shot, yeah.  Grandpa Garland’s the stout man in the middle:


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