Robert Areklett ’91: In His Own Words

I had the wonderful pleasure of being an active Delta Chi from 1989 to 1991. We were one of the smaller fraternities on campus at the time, and I believe that attributed to a very special unique experience. As brothers, we had to rely more on each other to fulfill the official responsibilities of the chapter, along with a very active social calendar, as well as the daily maintenance of house; despite its readily apparent age and dated decor, we took a tremendous amount of pride in making sure the house was kept tidy and clean. If it wasn’t, there were girlfriends who some of the brothers had to answer to. About 20 brothers lived in the house during the academic school year. This constituted a majority of the active membership, not including pledge classes. We were more like a family; we knew each other on a more personal level. As with any family, we had our dysfunctions — usually centered on what direction we felt was best to make our fraternity more successful. Despite those differences, which sometimes arose, the more important part of the discussion to me was seeing how close we held the fraternity to our hearts.

Steve Wei ’90 was the most influential active brother and mentor during my pledge term. He was definitely a guiding force in teaching me the importance, value and bond of brotherhood. His intellect, study skills and his ability to balance those with an active social life were something truly to be admired. More importantly, though, he took out of his own time to supplement our pledge education with a more historical “old school” approach. Frequently, he would walk our pledge class through the hallowed halls of the house and point out on our fraternity composites specific Delta Chi alumni from over the years who continued to maintain their bond with the house. In addition to the members of the Building Corp. (Don Leckey, John and David Levinson, John Stinson, who reigned during the late ’60s/early ’70s), Steve pointed out Frank Morrey and Elliott Lum, two brothers from the early ’60s. I don’t know why I have Elliott’s composite photo forever burned into my memory, but when he walked into last year’s reunion, I immediately recognized him and all I could think was, “THAT’S ELLIOTT LUM! THAT’S ELLIOTT LUM!” I am so proud that I finally got the chance to finally meet the illustrious Elliott Lum. Thanks Steve.

I have to give Chris Sujek ’91, a lot of credit for Delta Chi’s success, specifically regarding our pledge class. He joined the semester before I did, but he is the one who recruited myself, Michael Asman ’91, Jeff Schoenherr ’91 and James Wood ’91. We were all fellow Wenleyites from West Quad, and we constituted half of our eight-man pledge class. Chris was the first friend I made at the University of Michigan. We lived at the end of the hall, across from each other on Court Floor (the basement level whose windows opened up into window wells about a foot below grade). He introduced me to skating, hockey and Labatt’s Beer, an irony in and of itself since I hailed from Darien, Conn. — the distributorship headquarters for Labatt’s at the time … not to mention their office line was almost identical to my home phone number. The last two digits were reversed, if memory serves me correctly. A lot of our late-night free time was spent going to Yost Ice Arena, going traying in the Arb (Chris even created the UM Tobogganing Club — it had a very exclusive membership) and going up to the Music School Pond on North Campus to shoot the puck around.

My closest and dearest friendships of Delta Chi are with Michael Asman, Jeff Schoenherr and Jeff Klaiman ’93.

Mike and I got to know each other about two weeks into our freshman year. At about that time, my roommate and I began to notice that we could hear liquid being poured into our window well boxes, but only at nighttime. After a few occurrences, we realized that someone was not taking advantage of the public restrooms made available by U-M. As soon as I figured out the source of our consternation, I immediately ran up to the second floor, banged on the door to the room directly located over ours, and there … I formally met and confronted Mike. He was aware of the issue, shared my concern and with a straight face said that there was nothing he could do about it. It was coming from the floor above his (note: the floor above was an all-women’s floor). It was at that point that I knew Mike and I would become great friends. For all intents and purposes, Mike and I became the official troublemakers of our dorm house. I can’t even tell you who was more at risk of getting kicked out. Unfortunately, Schoenherr sometimes ended up being an unwitting third party accomplice. The antics only continued, became more creative and more cruel once we moved into Delta Chi.

The fact that Mike and I were the house managers during the two years we lived in the house only led to more licentious behavior. Don’t worry, Mike … I won’t talk about the panty raid games … Oh, well … There was another time Steve Wei, Asman and I managed to climb into the Delta Gamma House at three in the morning and managed to successfully get their most recent sorority composite which was in a locked picture case located in their sitting room. Trust me, given our condition, it was a tremendous feat. It took about 90 minutes, and I was laughing the whole time. Of course, there was the usual resetting of the other’s bedroom furniture on the front lawn, or the setting off of the fire extinguisher under the door. Rewiring the house with Mike was always an electrifying experience, at least on my end. Removing pins out of door hinges was always worthy of a Candid Camera moment. I would have to say that the best April Fool’s Day prank we ever pulled was what we did to the second-floor bath toilet stall. We flipped over the bifold louver door so that it pivoted inwards instead of out. We then took surgical tubing and rerouted the water supply from the toilet flush valve up the wall and over to the door so that the toilet turned into a shower when it was flushed. Don’t worry; it was potable water (in case you haven’t figured it out yet).

Mike and Schoenherr got me real good one time. Jeff and I were living in Middle Earth at the time, and Mike was living in Windows, so he had a door that actually connected into our room. I must have come in from the Architecture School at about one in the morning after being up there for four or five straight days. It was a typical February night — dark, quiet and about 15 below zero. At any rate, I set the alarm for 6:30 a.m. so that I could get a few hours of sleep before going back up to the school and continue working on one of my “major” projects. I crashed. Then the next thing I know, the alarm goes off. I got up, jumped in the shower, got dressed, went outside, kicked over my ’77 T-Bird by spraying starter fluid into the carburetor, jumped into my freezing-a** car and then realized it was 2:30 a.m. in the morning. Thanks Mike and Jeff. You guys are the Greatest!

Jeff Schoenherr definitely represents all that is great about Delta Chi. His devotion to our chapter and his brothers knows no bounds. He has always kept Delta Chi close to his heart. I consider myself very fortunate and privileged to have known him all these years. I met Jeff in Wenley House, West Quad. As a Connecticut Yankee (yeah, Sujek — I know exactly what you’re thinking — don’t say it), Schoenherr introduced me to Vernor’s Ginger Ale warmed over on a hot plate. It was perfect for settling one’s stomach during final exams. Even then, he had an open door and welcomed anyone who walked through it.

Jeff Klaiman has been a wonderful friend over the years as well. I think we hit it off because his mother’s New York accent by way of New Jersey was more pronounced than my mother’s Long Island accent. I know it definitely had nothing to do with that Van Halen or Bon Jovi thing hanging around his neck. Actually, Klaiman fully immersed himself into Delta Chi right from the onset. He took his role as a pledge and as an active seriously. I believe that his willingness and desire to be of service to our chapter drew the attention and respect of many of the older brothers and this in turn developed into lifelong friendships.

Asman, Klaiman, Schoenherr and myself have all been to each other’s weddings. Over the years, most of us have had to opportunity to vacation together on a few occasions and keep in touch on special occasions. Asman still calls me once a year so that we can wish each other a Happy Birthday (we were born 11 days apart — mine is April 1st so he takes tremendous pleasure in that). Words cannot express my gratitude to Klaiman and Schoenherr for attending my mother’s wakes and funeral in Virginia and Connecticut two years ago. I believe this is what I value the most about my experience at Delta Chi — the lifelong friendships that continue to endure despite time and long distances.

Following my graduation from the Architecture School at U-M, I further developed my career in the construction industry. I had already spent several summers as a carpenter’s apprentice while in school. I continued to learn the skills necessary to become a lead carpenter and then a journeyman carpenter. I attended and graduated from New York University’s (NYU) Professional Diploma Program in building construction management in 1994, from which I graduated second in my class. Additionally, I also attended and graduated from NYU’s certificate program in residential building Inspection the following year. Given my academic and field background, I was able to create my own construction management company, providing design, construction management and trade skills to various clients and general contractors. I have been self-employed almost my entire life and have provided services for construction projects ranging from the small up to $1 million plus whose scopes of work include high-end residential, commercial, retail and professional usage.

During this time (1995), I was fortunate enough to meet Linda, my future wife. I actually met her on a blind date and was introduced to her by the wife of a client. I think she began to get an idea of who I am on that first date; I took her to an incredible steakhouse restaurant in Garden City Park, N.Y.  Linda didn’t each much steak back then, but she didn’t want to offend me. After the waiter took her order, I ordered the fish. I proposed to her in the same restaurant nine months later. I am truly one of the luckiest guys in the world. After 18 years of marriage, we now have five children: Erik (12), Gabriel (7), Michael and William (both 5) and, most recently, Trinity (6 months). Yes, after four boys, my wife finally got her daughter. She is absolutely adorable and well on her way to catching up to her brothers; she weighs about 20 pounds at this point. Erik’s nickname in nursery school was Godzilla, and Gabriel stands a full head height taller than his classmates. You don’t really notice these things until you see a group picture with him in the center. The caption underneath should read, “These are my little friends.” 

My children have definitely become the most important part of my life. It took me a while to realize this. I missed out on so much the first several years of Erik’s life. Linda would actually have to schedule dinner dates with me just so I could see him during his waking hours. I learned to temper my work habits with the birth of each successive child, but I was still resentful of getting phone calls from the nanny, “When can you get home? Your son just spoke for the first time” or “Your son started crawling or walking today.”  I was missing out on so many milestones. Following the premature births of our twin boys in 2010, I completed the major projects that were active and then subsequently only took on smaller and smaller projects that afforded me the flexibility to provide the supplemental care that a family with four young and very active children requires. For all intents and purposes, I have closed down operations at this point, following the birth of our daughter. I think I told Linda that I could take on the responsibilities of raising Trinity and our four boys and finally work on all the remodeling projects our house has needed all these years while I was working on other clients’ projects. Anybody have an extra 24 hours in a day somewhere that I don’t know exists?

Volunteering has always been an important part of our lives. Just like being involved in the fraternity, you will always get so much more in return for your service. Prior to meeting Linda, I had been a project consultant for Habitat for Humanity and had the opportunity to be the lead carpenter for the Tall Ships Exhibition connected with the Special Olympics. There’s a funny story associated with the latter. I was the only one who was allowed to drive a vehicle on the docks where the ships were moored in New Haven Harbor, Conn. At one point, a certain senator stumbled off the gangway of the governor’s yacht and right in front of my pickup truck. No, I didn’t hit the gas. Let’s just say that life is full of ironic moments; you just have to be awake to acknowledge and appreciate them. If you don’t get it … just think about it … keep thinking … don’t worry, it’ll hit you at some point. Once I met Linda, volunteering took on a whole new dimension. Prior to Erik being born, we started raising black labs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Essentially, we would get the puppies when they were about six to eight weeks old, and then would raise and train them for the next 18 to 22 months whereupon they would be tested pass/fail to enter their program. We had to take a break after the twins were born, but we continue to socialize puppies on occasion for the organization. I think at our peak around 2011, we actually had three dogs and four cats in our house. Linda is definitely the spark and initiator of many of the volunteer activities of which I have been/am involved. Following Hurricane Katrina, which hit Louisiana and Mississippi, she spearheaded a local drive to collect children’s clothes, diapers, baby formula and children’s toys. Guess who got to drive the moving van down to Jackson, Miss.? For the past several years, she has volunteered me through her church to deliver secret santa presents to inner city children throughout Connecticut whose parents are incarcerated. I can tell you that there is nothing more powerful than a smile on a child’s face. Linda has made sure that I make up for lost time with Erik. As the call goes out for adult advisors in his Boy Scout troop, I find myself more and more immersed into the organization. Additionally, she volunteered me to become the den leader for Gabriel’s Tiger Cub Scout den; essentially its a five-year commitment as the Cubs ascend through the successive ranks on their way to becoming Boy Scouts. I can hardly wait to see how she’s figured out what’s going to happen when our twin boys enter first grade. In fact, I just found out last night from Linda (but she claims to know nothing about it) that the Boy Scout leadership wants me to start leadership training for venturing. Venturing is open to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts starting at the age of 14. Now that I have a daughter … Do you think they might be getting a little ahead of themselves?

The best advice that I can give the younger Delta Chi members is this: Cherish your experience in the house. Have fun with your brothers. Those are the memories that will stay with you. Develop a sense of humor if you don’t have one; learn to temper it if you do. Not everyone will laugh at your jokes. Also, learn to listen to and respect others. Being on the executive committee, social chair, rush chair, etc. … These are all opportunities for you to develop leadership, delegation and personal skills, which you will need after you graduate. There isn’t a single day in my life that goes by where some learning experience I had while living in the house does not apply. Learn how to hear what other people are saying. Try to see where other people are coming from when you are in disagreement. Many, many times, you will begin to realize that your goals are the same as others; you just may have different approaches on how you want to reach the same goal. Look deep into yourselves and try to figure out who you are and who you want to be. Find out what your core principles are and then learn how to compromise and work with others. Realize that in life, nothing is impossible; there is nothing you cannot accomplish … it’s just a lot more fun when you can share the experience with others. I could remind my fellow brothers that “Nixon listened to many tapes,” that “I can get a babysitter for $7 an hour” or that “every coin has at least three sides” but I would like to say that this is one of my favorite memories Delta Chi memories: “Only in Delta Chi could we come together and celebrate Christmas with a Chanukah bush.”

Brothers can connect with Robert at [email protected].

The attached photo was taken at last year’s reunion in September at the Michigan Union. From right to left: Jeff Schoenherr ’91. Robert’s son Erik (12 yrs. old), Robert, Don Sweeney ’94, and two more recent Delta Chi alumni.