It was an average day for Dick Lareau, he was a young student enrolled in a Navy program at the University of New Mexico and was on his way to class. As he walked, he heard what sounded like a cow, more specifically, a cow’s “moo”. He looked around and to his surprise, a cow was perched on the roof of the Student Union, mooing. The next day the local paper captured the event with a photo and credited the act to a local fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ). To Dick, that sounded like his kind of fraternity.
After completing his service in the Navy, he returned to his hometown and enrolled at San Diego State College (which became San Diego State University). Dick’s timing was perfect as a local fraternity, Epsilon Eta, had recently been colonized by ΣΑΕ and Dick joined as a member of the first California Theta Pledge Class in 1950. While he never met Epsilon Eta alum Gregory Peck, he formed lifelong bonds to both his brothers and fraternity before transferring to University of California Berkley to study architecture.
ΣΑΕ was ever present in Dick’s life. He met his first boss at a Founders Day Dinner, and his first architectural client was an ΣΑΕ in need of a new home. Later in life an ΣΑΕ asked him to join the board of highly successful Peninsula Bank (now U.S. Bank) and he currently sits on the board of the San Diego Air and Space Museum with a fellow ΣΑΕ, who happens to be the President and CEO. But, for many ΣΑΕ’s in San Diego, Dick will always be remembered as the man who built 5076 College Place, the home of California Theta.
After determining that the house on Saranac Street was too far from the University, in the early 1960s, Brothers of Cal Theta sought Dick out and asked him to lead a team responsible for locating and buying property near campus, designing a house, building it and finding all the money to make it happen. What they lacked in money they made up for in bravado and hired the young architect by acclamation, sealing his contract with a round of applause.
After a thorough search of feasible options, within a half mile of campus, the team narrowed the search to two adjacent houses whose owners, initially opposed to the sale, agreed to terms after many friendly visits from Dick and the Gentleman of ΣΑΕ.
With property in hand, Dick enlisted the aid of fellow ΣΑΕ’s to help him design the house and secured a contractor for construction once he secured financing. However, financing proved to be more of a challenge than expected. It turns out that nobody in their right mind will loan money to a fraternity. So, for nearly six years he kept the faith and kept the project alive, carting the plans before pledge class after pledge class showing them what would be their new house...as soon as he could raise the money.
Then one day, the President of First Federal Savings passed away and his son, an ΣΑΕ, took the reigns of the bank and loaned the chapter 95% of the funding needed.A little begging and pleading by Dick shored up the rest of the financing along with more in-kind construction donations.They were off!
But, as we all know, no ΣΑΕ house is complete without our famed lions, and no ordinary lion would suffice for Cal Theta.
A friend of Dick’s spotted two giant, winged lions in a vacant lot, covered by weeds, while driving through Oklahoma. It turned out that they were left over from when they built the new capital building in Nebraska. After speaking with the owner on the phone, Dick asked the chapter if they would purchase the lions for $500 and haul them back to San Diego. One of the actives, a young man who went by the nickname “Mad Dog” scoffed at the idea, stating that for $500 he could build them himself, and he did.
They had the property, the design, the contractor, the financing, the lions, and in 1967, they had a new house at 5076 College Place. A house that remains standing nearly 45 years later and has ushered thousands of young men across its threshold and through its halls.A house that many have called home and a house that remains a living link to both the past and future. It holds a special place in many hearts and we all share in our appreciation for its developer.
Dick is quick to dismiss the idea the he built our fraternity house, and is the first to praise the bevy of brothers who aided in the effort, but I think we all know who is ultimately responsible, and we were honored to call him our Brother of the Year in 2012.
And, to think that it all started with a cow on the Student Union in New Mexico...