Your gracious hosts

The University Club changed throughout the years, but its heyday was during the ’70s when it brought big name musical acts to campus

By John Walsh

Some of the country’s biggest rock bands – Aerosmith, Heart, and The Beach Boys to name a few – rolled through University Heights during their concert tours in the 1970s thanks to the hustle of University Club members and their relationship with Mike and Jules Belkin, well-known concert promoters based in Cleveland. The University Club was synonymous with concerts, but its identity and reputation evolved over time.

When it started in 1958, the University Series was known as one of Cleveland’s premiere cultural attractions. Founded by English professor Rev. Herman Hughes, S.J., the series was based on bringing artists and cultural productions to campus to promote intellectual curiosity. The young men behind the production of the University Series were members of the University Club, a fraternity affectionately known as the U-Club, which also was founded in 1958 by Fr. Hughes and L. Morgan Lavin, former dean of men. Students, alumni, and residents of Cleveland looked to Carroll for able leadership in cultural activities. Through various art forms, the series provided enjoyment and education.

uclub_patch_webThe U-Club, essentially a student host organization, provided valuable assistance promoting various stage shows throughout the academic year. Formed primarily to help as an usher group for the University Series, the club, which sponsored and coordinated the University Series, expanded its services in 1960 to other events by controlling ticket sales and house direction as well as hosting parties. The club, which became independent of the University Series, was dedicated to advancing the culture of the student body.

In 1965, the club earned the Organization of the Year designation from the University, but it also changed and progressed. Aside from its formal function as host, the club had always pledged the development of excellence and leadership for its members. Eventually, it added highlights to the University Series. Before each performance, a panel discussion or lecture provided a more fulfilling student experience of the coming show. Following each series event, the club hosted a reception for the cast, offering refreshments and music. (Although the University Series ended in the early ’70s as a result of finances and poor student attendance, Carroll brought back culture in the form of “Cleveland on Stage” during the 1975-1976 academic year.)

The U-Club, which used to host an annual jazz concert, also was responsible for preprom and homecoming shows. By the mid-1960s, the appetite for jazz had waned among students in favor of rock and roll, thanks in large part to The Beatles.

“The early years of the U-Club were based on the strength of the University Series and Fr. Hughes, who was good at booking acts,” says former club president Bill Gagliano ’77, an attorney with Ulmer & Berne in Cleveland who’s working on his own detailed history of concerts staged at Carroll from the ’50s through the ’80s. “Most acts in the early ’60s played in small venues around town comparable in size to Kulas Auditorium and the JCU gym.”

“It was incredible that the University let students handle all aspects of the concerts, from the booking to the promotion to the accounting,” says Ron Sertz ’69, executive director of the Erie Sports Commission in Pennsylvania. “Your senior year you were assigned to run a concert – market it, do the books, or even manage the whole thing. The U-Club taught you a lot about responsibility and business. It was quite a learning experience.”

U-Clubbers having fun in the 1960s

U-Clubbers having fun in the 1960s

During the ’60s, the club averaged about 60 members and accepted 15 to 20 pledges a year. This size was partly as a result of the work of former club president Pete Kiernan ’65, who didn’t see the point of a rule that capped membership at 50.

“I thought it was exclusionary, so I endeavored to change that, which was hard to do,” says Kiernan, now an attorney with the firm Schiff Hardin, chairman of the New York State Law Revision Commission, and visiting fellow at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.

Pledging took time, and while there were no requirements to join the fraternity, the popularity of the club grew to a point when more people pledged than were accepted. Students could pledge as early as their second semester freshman year. Typical first-year responsibilities included serving as ushers for the University Series and guiding weekend tours for prospective students and visiting dignitaries.

“You developed a sense of doing something important for the University,” Sertz says. “You had a real sense of responsibility. We were contributing to the University and had pride in doing service for the school. It has served me well in my professional life.”

U-Clubbers sported olive blazers embroidered with the fraternity patch that featured Grasselli Tower, the JCU seal, and the letters JC. The patch was designed by Frank San Hamel, the father of Bill San Hamel ’62, a member from Chicago. The U-Club was one of two big fraternities with stature on campus at the time, the other being the IXYs (Iota Chi Upsilon), who donned blue blazers.

For many, the club’s value laid in the opportunities – of brotherhood, service, and leadership – it presented. During the 1963-1964 academic year, Kiernan gave the group its motto, a poem by E. E. Hale, that exemplifies the drive for something better:
“To look up not down,
To look forward not back,
To look out not in,
And to lend a hand.”

The motto was seen in the club’s collective consciousness, it wasn’t immune to criticism or the passage of time, and it was open to change because life itself is change. This turned out to be telling.

Tim Russert's U-Club jacket

Tim Russert’s U-Club jacket

The peak of popularity
In 1960, with the help of Lavin, the U-Club became a chartered Student Union organization that provided services for all on-campus University functions. Over time, certain union positions, which were appointed by the union’s executive board, were filled regularly by U-Clubbers. For example, the director of special events was traditionally a U-Club member until the early ’80s, Gagliano says. Another leadership position, the director of the Rathskeller, the campus bar, was often a U-Club member. The strong connection between the U-Club and Student Union was exemplified by Beaudry Award winner Tim Russert ’72, former moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” who was president of both organizations.

Known as a service fraternity (as opposed to a Greek or social one), the U-Club furnished the necessary manpower to put on performances, especially rock concerts. (See list below.) Members sold the tickets, set up the stage, took it down and stored it, placed tarps on the floor, set up folding chairs, distributed posters, took tickets at the door, and ushered people to their seats. They also worked with the Belkins. As a result of their hard work and success, the number of concerts per year accelerated through the ’70s.

“The concerts gave the University a lot of notoriety,” says Mike Messina, Ph.D., ’75, a marketing professor at Gannon University in Pennsylvania. “Bruce Springsteen could have gone to Cleveland State, but he came to Carroll. And Pure Prairie League liked us so much, they came to the party we hosted after the concert.”

During the 1974-1975 academic year, Messina worked the locker room the night Springsteen performed. That meant making sure no one entered the locker room and providing The Boss with the food and beverage he wanted – meatballs and Heineken beer. Messina says it was something to remember, drinking a beer with Springsteen; Clarence Clemons, his saxophone player; and Russert.

The many concerts held at Carroll during the ’70s, were, in part, a result of the Belkins, who assumed the financial risk for the events. Still, the venue, ushers, stagehands, and ticket sales were all free, courtesy of the U-Club. The U-Clubbers’ relationship with the Belkins was so good they ushered for the promoters at the Allen Theatre in Cleveland or anywhere else they were needed.

“The relationship between JCU and the Belkins was a perfect fit,” Gagliano says. “We got the concerts, and they got a free venue and cheap labor.”

“The Belkins loved the U-Club,” says Rick Deneweth ’79, former director of special events for the Student Union and treasurer of the U-Club who’s now owner and associate broker with Three West, a commercial real-estate consulting firm based in Traverse City, Michigan. “They kept putting on concerts at Carroll even though they could have gone elsewhere to make more money.”

But by the end of the decade, the Belkins stopped promoting concerts at Carroll because they couldn’t make money on a venue of such size – 2,000 to 3,000.

The U-Club built its reputation from the concerts it put on, but members did a lot more than they were recognized for. For example, they did charity work, such as raising money for the American Cancer Society that supported Daffodil Days.

“Every member of the U-Club became successful partly because of their work with those on the outside, such as the bands and promoters,” Messina says.

End of an era
But every good thing usually comes to an end. The JCU stage, which was put together with sawhorses and heavy plywood, aged and became too old and small to hold the music equipment that was becoming larger and heavier as the end of the ’70s neared.

“The school wasn’t going to pay for a new stage, and bands started showing up with two semis full of equipment instead of one,” Gagliano says.

Deneweth admits that during the late ’70s the number of concerts and the big acts declined, primarily because of the size of the gym, the economics of putting on such concerts, a lack of parking, and neighbors complaining there were too many non-JCU students on campus.

“I knew we were at a real decline when, in the summer of ’78, Mike Belkin called me to tell me he had to move the Foreigner concert from JCU to the University of Akron because our venue wasn’t big enough,” Deneweth says. “That was the death blow as far as I was concerned. Once we knew we couldn’t bring in those types of shows, we started bringing the smaller acts into Kulas Auditorium.”

Still, Deneweth says the Belkins did everything they could to help U-Clubbers smooth over everything with JCU administrators.

Steve Nini ’81 followed Deneweth as U-Club president.

“I didn’t leave him much, but he pulled some stuff off, namely the Warren Zevon and the Talking Heads concerts,” Deneweth says.

By the 1983-1984 academic year, the club was labeled more prominently as a fraternity, Pi Alpha Chi, with identifiable green and white colors, even though the Greek letters date to the 1968-1969 academic year.

Gagliano believes the Student Union took fewer risks during the ’80s, which is one of the reasons why there were fewer concerts and, therefore, fewer students pledging the club.

During the ’80s, the club sponsored Thursday nights at the Rathskeller with area bands; coordinated an Ultimate Frisbee tournament; and was in charge of Communications Day, an annual daylong event that included a tour of campus with prospective students who had an interest in the communication field. The club also promoted bands by working with the University’s radio station, WJCU.

“During 1986-1987, I remember ticket sales for Southside Johnny were behind expectations, but then a rumor started that Bruce Springsteen was going to play, and the concert eventually sold out,” says former U-Clubber Jerry Driscoll ’89, now president and CEO of Beverly Rental Properties in Michigan.

By the late ’80s, the club had dwindled from an average of 60 members to 15, with pledge classes of less than 10. Eric Sosinski ’87, now a professional musician, says there were only two pledge classes after him, and his pledge class consisted of only three people.

“I think we were a bunch of guys who weren’t good at joining things,” Driscoll says. “There was a fine line between U-Clubbers and friends of U-Clubbers. We were a pretty inclusive group. Basically, U-Clubbers were the ones who were able to make the meetings. But that was the appealing thing about the U-Club at the time – it was smaller and less formal than other fraternities on campus.”

Sertz

Sertz

The U-Club still existed during the 1990-1991 academic year, which is thought to have been the last year it existed. It seemed to have died before the time, in 2001, when the University disbanded all Greek fraternities and sororities that weren’t formally affiliated with national ones.

Several years ago, Sertz organized a golf outing with alumni that turned into a full-fledged biennial U-Club reunion. The first reunion of about 40 guys occurred in 2013 in Detroit, the second of more than 50 former members was in 2015 in Chicago, and the third will take place in May 2017. JCU

Share your favorite U-Club musical moments by emailing John Walsh, university editor, at jwalsh@jcu.edu or Bill Gagliano ’77, who’s planning to write a book about the U-Club, at bgagliano@ulmer.com.

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The soundtrack of your college days
The University Club prided itself on bringing top quality national musical acts to campus – the 70s being the heyday. By the late ’80s, bands still came to campus to perform (at the Rathskeller or Kulas Auditorium), but they were more local than national. Below is a list of musical acts that performed on campus.

Music act, Academic year

  • Richard Dyer-Bennet, 58-59
  • Mimi Benzell, 58-59
  • Duke Ellington, 60-61
  • Stan Kenton, 60-61
  • Dave Brubeck, 61-62
  • The Four Freshmen, 62-63, 65-66
  • Armstrong

    Armstrong

    Louis Armstrong, 63-64

  • The Vienna Boys Choir, 63-64
  • The Romeros, 63-64
  • Lou Elgart, 63-64
  • Erroll Garner, 63-64
  • Chad Mitchell Trio, 64-65
  • Al Hirt, 64-65
  • Don Shirley Trio, 65-66
  • Kingston Trio, 65-66
  • We Five, 65-66
  • Serendipity Singers, 65-66
  • Stan Getz, 65-66
  • The Rooftop Singers, 65-66
  • Simon and Garfunkel

    Simon and Garfunkel

    Simon and Garfunkel, 66-67

  • Bitter End Singers, 66-67
  • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, 67-68
  • The Four Seasons, 67-68
  • Flip Wilson, 67-68
  • Neil Diamond, 67-68
  • The Association, 68-69
  • The Turtles, 68-69
  • The Four Tops, 68-69
  • The Jaggerz, 68-69
  • The Vogues, 68-69
  • Iron Butterfly, 69-70
  • Tom Rush, 69-70
  • Lou Rawls, 69-70
  • Rotary Connection, 69-70
  • Chambers Brothers, 69-70
  • Sergio Mendes and Brasil, ’66 70-71
  • Country Joe McDonald, 70-71
  • Alex Taylor, 70-71
  • chicago_logo_webChicago, 70-71
  • Ides of March, 70-71
  • Freeport, 70-71
  • Sha Na Na, 71-72
  • Poco, 71-72
  • Humble Pie, 71-72
  • Glass Harp, 71-72
  • Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary), 71-72
  • Sly and the Family Stone, 71-72
  • Ruth Copeland, 71-72
  • Richie Havens, 71-72
  • The Beach Boys, 71-72
  • Seals and Crofts, 72-73
  • Barnstorm (featuring Joe Walsh), 72-73
  • Don McLean, 72-73
  • Steeleye Span, 72-73
  • Tir Na Nog, 72-73
  • Procol Harum, 72-73
  • Boz Scaggs, 72-73
  • Spooky Tooth, 72-73
  • Edgar Winter, 72-73
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears, 72-73
  • Beck, Bogert & Appice, 72-73
  • aerosmith-logo_webAerosmith, 73-74
  • Mott the Hoople, 73-74
  • Gordon Lightfoot, 73-74
  • Linda Ronstadt, 73-74
  • Jackson Browne, 73-74
  • B.B. King, 74-75
  • Bruce Springsteen, 74-75
  • Pure Prairie League, 74-75, 75-76
  • Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, 74-75
  • Michael Stanley Band, 75-76, 76-77
  • Melissa Manchester, 75-76
  • Orleans, 75-76
  • The Outlaws, 75-76
  • Elvin Bishop, 75-76
  • Laura Nyro, 75-76
  • Flo & Eddie, 75-76
  • Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, 76-77, 86-87
  • Image converted using ifftoanyHeart, 76-77
  • The Kinks, 76-77
  • Nils Lofgren, 76-77
  • Dickey Betts, 76-77
  • Steve Gibbons Band, 76-77
  • Alex Bevan, 77-78
  • Kevin Richards, 77-78
  • Michael Spiro, 77-78
  • Chuck Mangione, 77-78
  • Breathless, 77-78
  • Steve Forbert, 78-79
  • Warren Zevon, 79-80
  • Stewart

    Stewart

    Talking Heads, 80-81

  • The Psychedelic Furs, 82-83
  • David Johansen, 82-83
  • Wild Horses, 83-84
  • Otis Day and the Knights, 84-85
  • Bruce Cockburn, 84-85
  • Al Stewart, 84-85
  • Stryper, 85-86
  • The Romantics, 87-88

9 Comments


  1. I have never attended a concert with so much anticipation and pre concert fun as the Chicago Concert in the spring of 1971. It was crazy fun. We were also dissapointed when the Sergio Mendez concert ended after about three songs when some yahoo called in a bomb threat. Those concerts are still memorable 40 years later. Thanks U Club for all the work.

  2. I completely agree with John Connolly, particularly as it pertains to Chicago…my all time favorite Carroll concert! Also loved the Beach Boys, Sly and Humble Pie. I personally thanked Tim Russet for the Chicago concert at one of the reunions.

  3. This is a great article. I remember these concerts well; they were fun times, high energy. I worked on the crew that set up lighting and sound for these concerts usually held in the gym. Thank you for the memories.
    Thanks also to the guys responsible for getting the concerts at JCU back from ’63 to ’67.

  4. Dr Kent P Keller

    Great memories with all my U-Club brothers, hope to see you all in 2017!

  5. Great article… thank you. U Club was a very important part of my life at JCU (Class of ’67). Wonderful experience of brothers working together for the University and each other.

  6. While I did not belong to the U Club, (IBG ’74) we had the same circle of friends. You forgot the lemmings. I remember partying with them (belushi and chase) after their concert. Now THAT was a memory. Also, check the date on the kinks. I was there but I am almost sure it was during my years there and not after.

  7. great post. Also Franken and Davis. Greg Bloden (83) got the show and they came to a Halloween party after.

  8. Eugene M.Bozymski

    Who was responsible for the Dave Brubeck concert at JCU somewhere between 1953-1956 ?

  9. Remember when we had to get bread and grape juice for Stryper to have “mass” before their concert? And we took Al Stewart and his band down to Turkey Ridge… good times

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