“Off-campus clubs—what do you mean? What were they?” That was the response of Jessica Murr ’99, former president of the Bellarmine Alumni Board, when asked what she knew about groups such as the Podiceps, Ball and Chain, Plantation and The Farm that were an integral part of Bellarmine College culture during the 1960s and ’70s. Her reaction is typical. Although the clubs were part of Bellarmine’s social scene for a decade, they have mostly faded from institutional memory. They are not even mentioned, save for one photo, in the two official histories of the university written by Wade Hall and Fr. Clyde Crews.
The groups, neither supervised nor sanctioned by school officials, provided student-life options at a fledgling college with no student center and often bridged the substantial divide between “dormies” and “day-hops.”
“Bellarmine was basically a commuter school with not a lot to do. The clubs filled that void,” said Bill Russell ’68, who was a member of The Farm.
“Bellarmine was so new then, there wasn’t much campus activity,” agreed former Podiceps President Mike Nabicht ’68. “The dorms didn’t have room for a lot of activities, and the day-hops lived at home and wanted a place to hang out with their buddies.”
With no student center, said Mike “Muggsie” Mahoney ’67, one of the founders of Ball and Chain (B&C), there were limited leisure options for out-of-towners in a new city. “Although Bob Dylan was singing ‘The times they are a-changing,’ the school was maintaining a structured lifestyle,” added B&C leader and historian Mike “OB” O’Brien. “The B&C provided an environment where change was not only acceptable, it was enjoyable.”
Schools might have been becoming more inclusive, said Natalie “Tully” Stewart-Smith ’72, the only female Podiceps member at the time, “but school social options had not caught up; thus, students made their own. Remember, women had to sign in and out of our dorm back then!” It’s important for students of college age to socialize “and organize around common interests and without ‘adult’ supervision,” said The Podiceps’ Mike Abell ’68. “Such self-governance assists in the maturation process.”
Greg Coin ’69, a member of Plantation, noted that another reason the clubs probably sprang up was that the school administration was “so disinterested in sponsoring or even sanctioning any campus fraternities.”
College administrators did support one on-campus organization. A local chapter of Alpha Delta Gamma (ADG), a national Catholic social and service fraternity, began at Bellarmine in 1961 and currently has about 40 members. In 2011, Bellarmine’s chapter was recognized as the most outstanding in the nation. “The ADG brotherhood is strong … its presence is part of the fabric of campus,” said Dr. Helen-Grace Ryan, vice president for Student Affairs. Dr. Ryan, who has worked at Bellarmine since 2007, had no knowledge of the history of the off-campus clubs.
Former club members couldn’t recall any major disciplinary issues related to the clubs. John Schmitt ’67 remembered that The Farm was once fined for littering the campus for placing fliers on cars to promote a dance. Ball and Chain eventually agreed to disband as part of a court settlement with local civil authorities—but faced no school action.
“I think the autonomy that resulted from off-campus clubs not being directly affiliated with the college was a good thing,” said Ray Bannon ’69, a member of another group known as FYB. “It was beneficial to allow loose association of students who could decide for themselves what kind of structure they wanted and needed.”
Could groups function in a similar manner today? “While the lore of such off-campus organizations seems like tremendous fun, (they) would likely provide for a harrowing juxtaposition given society’s litigiousness and interest in social media. It’s a bit harder for things to stay secret these days,” Dr. Ryan said. “While an off-campus club wouldn’t necessarily run afoul of the Code of Conduct, we would encourage any organization to register with (Bellarmine) so that they could enjoy more benefits—funding, reserving space on campus, advertising events … If the organization is affiliated with Bellarmine specifically and hosts events under the pretense of an affiliation with Bellarmine, we would visit them with the goal of formally registering with the university.”
Membership in off-campus clubs generated lasting memories and relationships—a substantial factor during the turbulent cultural revolution that was then unfolding across the country.
Over the years, club members have conducted reunions in various ways. The Podiceps, in conjunction with the Class of 1968’s 50th celebration and under the leadership of Major Gen. (Ret.) Ed Tonini ’68, held their own get-together that numbered more than 80 attendees, and put together an impressive 54-page book of members and memories. Ball & Chain has sponsored reunion events for the past three years, and O’Brien maintains a large database. FYB members share season basketball seats and gather on occasions. The Farm has held informal reunions over the years. Greg Coin said that Plantation is planning a separate bash in conjunction with their milestone reunion of the summer of 1969. Another club known as the Sportsmen have reunited around BU basketball games.
In the memory book prepared for the 2018 Podiceps reunion, Doug Brown ’68 wrote that among his favorite Bellarmine memories are the “lifelong friends who have traveled the road together,” and Major Gen. Tonini concluded, “I know that my years at Bellarmine … with the incredible young men known as ‘Podiceps,’ form the foundation of everything I was able to accomplish over the past five decades.”
“These clubs obviously added to a great college experience for students in the ’60s and ’70s,” says Peter Kremer ’02, executive director of Alumni Relations. “It’s a shame they did not continue in some form, as I am sure current students would enjoy these clubs as much as undergrads did long ago. When these alumni get together years later, they always have great stories to share and rekindle friendships that have deep roots through many decades.”
By Harry Rothgerber ’69
Origin of name: “In a dictionary, Gil Thompson ’69 found a picture of the duck-billed grebe, a bird which could swim half-submerged,” said Louis Lococo ’69. 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.”
Members: Mix of day-hops (or “townies”) and out-of-towners (or “non-townies”) from all over the country.
Clubhouse: Originally a former convent on the top floor of the old school at St. John’s parish at Clay and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali Boulevard), including six bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, library, living room and community room. Later, the club moved to a house on Frankfort Avenue near the Kentucky School for the Blind.
Highlights: No initiation. Modest dues. B average required. Intramural sports teams. Interest in charity work; the club sponsored a large Thanksgiving dance at the Fairgrounds with proceeds going to St. Joseph Children’s Home. Members active in student council, Lance and Concord. Brought the Louisville Orchestra on campus to perform in front of Horrigan Hall, with fireworks.
Members: Louisville-area residents.
Clubhouse: Large, two-story farmhouse with a wrap-around porch on 20 acres near Pewee Valley in Oldham County, which was then “dry.”
Highlights: Incorporated. No initiation. Modest dues. Intramural sports teams. Sponsored dances at the Fairgrounds for Christmas and Derby with popular bands, such as the Monarchs, to generate income. Cadillac hearse used for road trips, pranks and group transport. “The county sheriff…was extremely fond of alcoholic beverages. He loved to come to our place and drink a few,” recalled Bill Russell ’68. “He was typically tipsy when he was there. One night he showed up when we were playing poker. He was more than tipsy and was ruining our game. Someone went in the other room and called in a non-existent wreck on Hwy. 146, which ran directly in front of The Farm. For the next 30 minutes all we could hear was (the sheriff) in his patrol car going up and down the highway looking for the wreck!”
BALL & CHAIN
Members: Mostly out-of-towners, with a nucleus from Chicago and northern cities, but some from Kentucky too; a few day-hops from Louisville.
Clubhouse: Originally a small apartment behind a house on Baxter Avenue near Jack Fry’s; next, on the second floor of the drug store at Bardstown Road and Speed Avenue that now houses The Bard’s Town, with a kitchen, dining room, living room, two bedrooms and a screened-in back porch.
Highlights: Incorporated. Always an atmosphere of good times. Beers for a quarter. Many co-eds there on the weekends. Sponsored well-attended dances with live music at the Fairgrounds. Became defunct due to post-Derby Week issues with civil authorities.
“As one Ball & Chain member testified at the 50th reunion last year,” recalled Mike O’Brien ’68: “‘After all these years, I finally got to see two things that I never saw in my four years at Bellarmine: the library and the chapel!’”
(approx. 1966-early 1970s)
Origin of name: “Friendship, Youth and Brotherhood”
Members: Day-hops. A group of local Catholic high school grads of diverse majors, with Accounting, Business Administration and Biology predominant.
Clubhouse: Two apartments on the entire second floor above the old Lad and Dad Shop clothing store on Bardstown Road at Bonnycastle.
Highlights: No initiation. Modest dues. Intramural sports teams. Primary function was social. Members eventually made a concerted effort to become active in student council. Built a float for Homecoming.
“Many nights were consumed with what we thought were deep philosophical, economic and political discussions—especially as we approached graduation and the (Vietnam) War continued,” said Ray Bannon ’69. “However, no impasse was as important as having another beer together.”
(1967-mid- to late 1970s)
Members: “The club comprised mainly (but definitely not exclusively) students involved with some aspect of the music department—College Singers, Pep Band, Bellaires (big band) and their friends,” said Greg Coin ’69. “Most were day-hops but [there were] some dormies and a scattering of returning vets.” No official female members, but a number of “honorary” ones, including Catherine (Pinto) Coin ’69.
Clubhouse: On Barret Avenue, second floor of a corner building that housed a diner on the first floor. Quite sizable, with two bedrooms and three party spaces—the largest of which was painted all black, with a revolving mirror ball and a Pickering upright piano that members played at parties.
Highlights: No initiation. Intramural football. Music all the time and everywhere. Great fun, lots of singing and dancing and a place to enjoy drinks without having to carry a fake ID.
“I remember a Luau dinner with spiked punch in a garbage can that lasted for nine hours!” Coin says.
Members: Mostly local students, plus one Tennesseean.
Clubhouse: Three places in four years: a farmhouse off Preston Highway; a house on the river near Valley Station; and the second floor of a building at Bardstown Road and Rosewood Avenue.
Highlights: No initiation. Modest dues. Intramural sports teams. Parties, fellowship and camaraderie. Sponsored two dances a year, at Thanksgiving and Derby.
“The non-basketball players would rent buses and travel to away games,” says Mike Pollio ’65. “Marty Schnurr ’65 and I were called into the dean’s office, and he said that he heard that we had a six pack [of beer] on the bus. Actually, we had a keg, but we pleaded guilty to the lesser crime. We just received a slap on the wrist.”
“I was always a light drinker,” recalls Nick Watson ’66. “So when the police came, I always went downstairs to meet them, assure them, and oil the works so they would leave happy. The club gave me a brass plaque for that with my name engraved under ‘Sportsman of the Year.’ I was not an eager athlete, but I got that honor anyway.
THE OTHER PLACE
Origin of name: (TOP) The “other place” as compared to B&C.
Members: Mostly out-of-towners.
Clubhouse: A house on some acreage; larger apartments in the Highlands.
Highlights: “TOP formed after Ball & Chain, but did not last but a few years,” said Muggsie Mahoney. “Not everyone was able to get into the Ball & Chain, and my personal opinion is that their name reflected on the popularity of the B&C and the Podiceps,” added Mike O’Brien.