When I started at Bellarmine College in the fall of 1964, we had an orientation class that was held in the cafeteria, I believe. I was seated between two grade school and high school friends, Gilbert Thompson (St. James) and John Weis (St. Xavier). We were told to look to our left and right and be wary that one of the three of us would not make it to graduation. The three of us stayed pretty close that first semester, Gil and I in pre-engineering and John in business. We made a number of separate friends, some local commuters like us and some from out of town who lived in the dorms.
Together with our friends we played intramural sports – touch football, basketball and softball. Bob Albers ’68 was the only true jock. He couldn’t play intramurals because he was on the basketball team, but he did coach our intramural basketball team. The opposing teams were mainly divided into two groups: the Dormies, who lived on campus, and the Locals, who commuted. We were the oddball group, with both dorm students and locals. We all decided we needed an organization or local fraternity to establish our dorm-and-local makeup.
A few of us met at Ed Tonini (’73)’s house, I believe, and drafted some weak bylaws, but we struggled with a name. Finally, Gil found a picture of a bird in a dictionary, the duck-billed grebe, which could swim half-submerged. This sounded like our sink-or-swim organization, so we took the first Latin word in its name and became the Podiceps. We constructed a coat of arms with a bird flying over three pillars which represented the Podiceps towering over friendship, community and knowledge.
Tommy Sipes ’68 was elected president. He was a visionary. He wanted us to have a house where some of the dorm students could live and we could meet and party. John Weis’ uncle was the pastor of St. John’s on Chestnut Street, a defunct parochial school on the southeast edge of downtown Louisville that had a vacant nun’s quarters. After some loose negotiations we had a house with four to six bedrooms, a kitchen, a lounge area and a large meeting room. This was perfect. Our first roomer in the fall of 1965 was Vinnie Linares ’72. Mike Nabicht ’68 soon joined him, along with the Able brothers and Charlie Snyder. We invited professors to come and discuss any topic they wished in a casual atmosphere over a free beer. We had a few takers, mainly from the philosophy and theology departments. If the crowd was small, we sat on sofas and chairs in the lounge area. We also partied hearty in the meeting room, where we had covered the windows with plywood and carpet to muffle the noise after a complaint from the neighborhood.
This wasn’t enough for Tommy Sipes, however. These meetings and our intramural sports covered only two pillars of our coat of arms. He wanted us to do something for the community. He wanted us to sponsor a free open-air concert on the Bellarmine campus. He made contacts with the college to get the OK and contacted the Musicians Union to help defray some of the costs. And so in the fall or spring of 1966 and again in 1967, members of the Louisville Orchestra performed outdoors at Bellarmine, sponsored by the Podiceps. Not bad for a sink-or-swim organization.
Gil and I left campus in ’67, along with fellow Podicep Bill Connors ’69, after finishing our pre-engineering requirements and went on to the University of Michigan, where we graduated in 1969 with degrees in Aerospace Engineering. We also received a Liberal Arts degree from Bellarmine in ’69. (Our degrees actually said Bellarmine-Ursuline College because of the merger with the all-female Ursuline College.) Gil went to work in Los Angeles for the FAA and I went to Cincinnati to work for GE Aircraft Engines. The last I heard, Tommy Sipes was running a Montessori School in California. After he graduated in 1968 I believe the Podiceps went downhill, lost their house after conflicts with a new pastor, and folded. As for John Weis, he was the one who didn’t graduate. He joined the Air Force in 1965 and later worked as a successful salesman for the family business.
Louis Lococo ’69