Briefly Describe Your Chapter’s Philanthropy Event : Every April SAE hosts our philanthropy event Cookin’ for Kids which is a chili cookoff with live bands that raises money for battered children’s shelters. Last year SAE raised over $ 15,000 in the event and hopes to increase the amount this year. Money is raised through ticket sales and corporate sponsorships…
Briefly Describe Your Fraternity : SAE was nationally founded in 1856 and was brought to the University of Texas in 1882. It is the first Greek organization at UT and was even founded a year before the university was established.
The mission of Sigma Alpha Epsilon is to promote the highest standards of friendship, scholarship, and service for our members based upon the ideals set forth by our Founders and as specifically enunciated in our creed.
A party 30 years in the making
SAE’s Chili Cook-Off originator reflects on good times
Kirk Dooley/Texas Tech Alumnus
It was just insane. At the time, it was the largest collegiate chili cookoff ever held.
Today, 30 years later, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s “Chili” still is the largest collegiate chili cookoff in America. Yet it holds another, more important title. It is the largest charity fundraiser on the Texas Tech campus.
At the 30-year mark, I am drawn back to it because I created the event.
Back in the mid-70s, I was your typical Dallas kid having a big time at Tech. I played on the Tech soccer team, was an SAE, was sports editor for this newspaper and won a most unusual scholarship. The Wick Fowler Memorial Scholarship was awarded to the top collegiate journalism student in Texas.
Honoring the man who created “Three-Alarm Chili,” the scholarship gave me a full ride for one year at Texas Tech. One of the stipulations of winning the scholarship was to attend the World Championship Chili Cookoff in Terlingua, which I gladly did with a few other Tech rowdies.
Terlingua knocked me off my feet. Hot chili. Cold beer. Adventuresome women. The zaniest collection of characters I’d ever seen. The common denominator was the quest to have fun in the middle of nowhere. I had to transport this euphoria back to the Hub City. Tech students were made for this.
We had an SAE chili cookoff in 1976, just for our group, then the next year we opened it up to everyone on campus. It was a big hit right off the bat.
Back then there was a new concept of building all the Greek lodges on some land west of campus. It was to be called Greek Circle. At the time the SAE lodge was at 14th Street and Avenue X, one block from campus. Great location, but too small for a big event.
The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity had just created the first big campus-wide party, called Pikefest. It was a West Texas version of Wurstfest and was well-attended. The Pikes had also just bought a lot at the new Greek Circle but weren’t going to build on it for a few months. They let us use their vacant lot to hold our first all-campus “Chili”.
Hundreds came. More than 30 chili entries were turned in. My friend, Randy Golden, the Miller Beer campus rep, made sure we were never short of ice-cold beer. It was a huge success.
Judges? We had about a dozen and we allowed two to speak to the crowd. Former Governor Preston Smith and an unknown candidate for the state legislature, George W. Bush.
Bush was running against a popular Tech business teacher named Kent Hance. He was getting some good media exposure in Midland and Odessa, but Hance was getting all the ink in Lubbock. Bush asked around and my name kept coming up as a guy who could help him get some exposure. He called me out of the blue and I told him to stop by and we’d talk.
My roommate, fellow Terlingua veteran and Chili’s original chief judge, was a Colorado County working cowboy named Butch Strunk. Our place was a dump. It had no bathtub or shower. Our only food was a big pot of chili that we left on a hotplate for months. When we got hungry, we just heated up the chili. We figured that the bacteria would cook out each time we heated
her up. It didn’t attract too many girls, but it kept Butch and me well-fed.
George W. stopped by and wasn’t repulsed at our dump. I told him that we were going to start a campus-wide chili cookoff and he could get some good exposure if he were to come judge.
At the time, he was nobody. His dad wasn’t famous yet and he had an uphill battle against Hance. Butch and I liked George right off the bat. When he asked for some chili out of our pot – and actually ate it – we knew he was our kind of guy.
On Oct. 1, 1977, we held the Texas Tech Outer Space Chili Cookoff. The Sigma Nu’s set the pace, cooking chili out of a hollowed out refrigerator and drinking cervezas at 9:30 a.m. There was live music (the Panhandle Pickers), showmanship awards, a beer-chugging contest, worst-joke contest, belching contest, ugliest man contest (won by a Delta Tau Delta named Jay Rosser, who was the editor of this rag), tobacco spittin’ contest and the Bong Show.
Dr. John Miller won the chili competition but the second place finisher, Jeni Fey of Zeta Tau Alpha, won the honor of representing Texas Tech in the World Chili Championship in Terlingua the next month. She was a
big hit at the big cookoff. Today she is Mrs. David Wood, lives in Midland and still makes a mean pot of chili.
Now it’s three decades later. Dr. Bill Dean is still bald. Greek Circle is no longer a cotton field. We recently lost former Governor Preston
Smith. Randy Golden went from being a Miller beer student rep to being the president of one of the largest Miller distributorships in America.
Over the years I have stayed in contact with George W. Bush. We’ve gone to Texas Rangers games together and we used to smoke cigars together in his Governor’s office in Austin. He has a photographic memory and has never forgotten our first big chili cookoff and the positive newspaper coverage he got that week in Lubbock.
And he still remembers the rancid pot of chili in my apartment.
Those are great memories. We all had a great time at what has become a great Tech tradition. Bush and “Chili.” Little did we know 30 years ago how big they both would get.