On a sunny day in September 1964, two freshmen were studying in the cafeteria in Wehrenberg Hall. They casually struck up a conversation, and the chance meeting in their first few weeks at Valpo sparked a more than 50-year tradition that continues today.
In September, Rick Filip ’68 and Bob O’Dell ’68 returned to campus to celebrate their 52nd Homecoming and Reunion Weekend.
“It gets put in the calendar every year and nothing gets in the way,” Rick says.
“That’s right,” Bob adds. “We’ve never missed a year.”
Their friendship, which spans more than five decades, began during those first weeks at Valpo. Rick studied marketing and management and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Bob pursued a degree in government and economics in the College of Arts and Sciences. Though they never had a class together, they continued to spend their time together at campus events and other social activities after that first encounter in the cafeteria.
Rick and Bob soon became great friends, then roommates after their freshman years. They lived together in Brandt Hall their sophomore year and pledged Sigma Pi together.
“Our junior year we lived in the Sig Pi house down on Morgan Street, and then our senior year was the best year, because we got a house on Flint Lake,” Rick remembers. “My saddest day was the day I had to graduate.”
Rick and Bob’s Valpo experience also included meeting their spouses. Of course, they were each other’s best men at their weddings. Rick married Leann Danneil ’69 Filip and Bob wed Patricia Connell ’72 O’Dell.
Their annual Valpo Homecoming trip grew and now includes a group of their closest Valpo friends.
“My wife Leann has two college roommates and we have two Sig Pi brothers whom we include, along with their spouses, and we all try to meet every Homecoming,” Rick says. “Our group includes Charles “Chuck” ’70 and Gayle Montie ’69 Gibbons, Henry “Hank” ’68 and Karen Swanson ’69 Rahmel, Ken ’68 and Linda Benson, and Gary Schuessler ’69.”
The pair couldn’t imagine not returning to celebrate Homecoming.
“Our best friends are our Valpo friends,” Rick says. “It’s us, our wives, our wives’ Valpo roommates and other friends — we’re all one big, happy family.”
Bob and Rick live more than 1,000 miles apart, but that hardly means Homecoming weekend is their only chance to catch up. Bob lives in The Villages, Fla., and his sons and their families live in suburban Dallas, not far from Rick’s home.
“I couldn’t have picked a better spot or better people for them to live near than Rick and Leann,” Bob says.
The group gathers the Saturday morning of Homecoming and Reunion Weekend in front of the bookstore in the Harre Union. There, they greet each other before making their way to Founder’s Table cafeteria to enjoy lunch and reminisce about great times spent at Valpo. After that, it’s off to see what’s new on campus.
The group also takes time on Saturday afternoon to visit Bob and Rick’s old home on Flint Lake and other Northwest Indiana gems that invoke nostalgia of their Valpo days, like the Indiana Dunes State Park.
“The guys like driving up to the Dunes or to New Buffalo to spend time outdoors, and the ladies will visit notable tourist locations and shop,” Rick says.
Before Bob, Rick, and their friends end their special Valpo weekend, they meet one final time for breakfast to reflect upon how Valpo brought them together and what a blessing they are to each other. Not that they’ll be apart long; they know they’ll see each other again soon for their annual spring cruise or trip to The Villages, Fla.
“Everyone gets together again for another trip. It’s a tradition we started about 10 years ago,” Bob says. “This friendship we’ve developed — it all started at Valpo — has extended to places across the United States.”
Every graduate can describe the “Valpo experience;” the special energy and pivotal moments when students create their own paths. For Bob and Rick, it’s the friendship they’ve cultivated with each other and with their college friends.
“The friendships we’ve developed over the years and the ability to track those friendships back to Valpo are what make our time there special for us,” Rick says. “Sharing our memories of what we used to do at Valpo and making new memories each year are what will continue to make our relationship to each other, and to Valpo, truly unique.”
After Valpo, Rick went on to a long and successful career at Hammermill Paper Company in Erie, Pa. He left Hammermill in 1991 to launch an insurance agency in Rockwall, Texas, he continues to operate today.
Bob started in the National Teacher Corps program after graduation and pursued a master’s degree in education to specialize teaching in inner-city school systems. He taught in Chicago for four years before enrolling at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
“After teaching I went on to a private practice and then became a corporate and real estate attorney and worked for State Farm Insurance Company for the remainder of my career at its corporate headquarters in Bloomington, Ill.,” he says.
Though their careers have taken them far from each other, Bob and Rick know that each autumn will bring them together again to remember the start of a friendship that has spanned more than a half-century.