Animal House: Recalling Alex von Summer's college days at Dartmouth's famed Alpha Delta frat
He’s the tall, dark and handsome man standing at the left of the wedding party.
Alexander von Summer Jr., aka “The Lobe,” was the debonair one at the 1961 wedding of the infamous “Otter” of National Lampoon's Animal House.
Alpha Delta, the Dartmouth College fraternity that became the model for Animal House, had a smooth operator. His nickname came from the size of his earlobes, noticed flapping in the breeze by a besotted backseat passenger in his ’59 convertible.
The Lobe and about 25 other men lived in a big brick house near the campus in Hanover, N.H., where they drank vast amounts of beer, entertained their dates in a basement room, engaged in bizarre rituals, and somehow managed to acquire an Ivy League education.
Those were the days when trips to nearby colleges that enrolled women were measured by the six-pack, says a former fraternity brother, John C. Walters. Colby Junior College for Women was a two-beer ride; Smith College and Skidmore College, two six-packs.
Alex Jr. didn’t worry about dates. “I was a lowly pledge brother in the fall of his senior year,” Walters says, “and he was the envy of the house. He was tall, virile, outdoorsman.” The room in the basement, he added, was almost his private preserve.
Chris Miller, whose inside stories of frat-house life became the basis for Animal House, was also a pledge brother that year. “Totally handsome” is how he remembers “the Lobe.” Miller is next to von Summer, wearing a white jacket in the photograph.
Alpha Delta was famous for its initiation ritual, the Night of the Seven Fires.
As Miller recounted in an article in Playboy, “You had to hike out to the snowy woods in the middle of the night and find, with the aid of a mimeographed map, the Seven Sacred Watch Fires. At each of these would be a complement of brothers waiting to demand demented acts of you. You had to drop and sit in the snow, consume impossible quantities of beer and wine and vomit repeatedly, sometimes on one another. It was one of the greatest nights of my life.”
And the brothers would become some of the greatest friends of each others’ lives, too. Von Summer motorcycled through Europe with a frat brother in the year after college. In the 70s, he hosted them all at an annual ski weekend at his house in Sugarbush.
“Whatever he did, he was larger than life,” Walters says. He traveled to South America for fishing, piloted his own plane to Colorado for skiing, took a trip to Nova Scotia to see a total eclipse of the sun.
When he reinstated the “von” before his last name, his brothers “ribbed him hideously” about putting on the airs of royalty. But von Summer took the name seriously, having searched out his roots, and paid homage to his Austrian ancestors.
“I admired him a lot. He was extremely bright, competitive, and caring,” Walters says.
Stephen Borg, a Tenafly resident and member of the same fraternity at Dartmouth 30 years later, recalls a hole in the wall of his frat house bedroom that remains today. Written next to the hole is "Bat Shot Here, AVS."
"He was a legend," Borg says.
Although von Summer’s son he went to Dartmouth, he followed his friends into another fraternity, and didn’t join Alpha Delta. Says Walters: “He’ll never live that down.”
But Dartmouth life was not all about partying and shooting at bats.
"Alex von Summer was a devoted Dartmouth man who expressed his loyalty to the college in many tangible ways," Carolyn Pelzel, vice president for development at Dartmouth, says. "He played leadership roles in his class, in capital campaigns and in the College's Real Estate Advisory Committee. He established funds for that campaign and for athletics, and directed gifts to undergraduate scholarships. His love for Dartmouth touched his three children, Kristen '89, Alex III '91 and Hollis '00, who chose to establish a memorial fund in their father's name at Dartmouth's Rockefeller Center.
"From loss comes a legacy of love," Pelzel says. "This is a great Dartmouth family."
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