By Dan Meyers
(October 2011) The national Nu Sigma Nu medical fraternity has been gone from the CU medical school for nearly four decades. But its legacy as a gathering place for education and fun continued for many years, and now it is returning.
The return comes in the form of a roof. But not just any roof.
It’s a “green roof”—an ecologically sensitive gathering place atop the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center that’s being built at the new campus. The roof is being paid for largely by a $650,000 contribution from the legal successors to the fraternity. Students will have free use of the area for events.
“The roof will provide a needed focal point for the students on the campus, just as Nu Sigma Nu did,” says Bruce Waring, MD (Class of 1987). “That’s what resonated with this project.”
The roof also represents a nice bit of medical school history that several thousand alumni know firsthand.
The story goes back to the creation of the national fraternal organization Nu Sigma Nu in Michigan in 1882. Years later in Colorado, one of its enthusiastic supporters was James J. Waring, MD, who served as chairman of the Department of Medicine and founded the Webb-Waring Lung Institute.
In the 1920s, the first fraternity house stood on Cook Street near the 9th and Colorado Boulevard health sciences campus in Denver. It was supplanted by an art deco building at 8th and Ash, across from the former pharmacy building.
The building was sold in 1973, a financial victim of zoning changes and of the fading interest in fraternities in general that also caused the demise of Nu Sigma Nu as a national organization. (Chapters remain today only in Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania).
The national organization was gone but many CU students and grads wanted to retain the tradition of medical student housing and camaraderie. Acting as the Beta XI Alumni Chapter of Nu Sigma Nu, a 501c(7) organization, alumni purchased three houses on nearby Harrison Street. The residences were donated to the university, then leased back inexpensively.
“So from 1975 until the move to the new campus they provided low-cost student housing for med students, maybe 500 students over the years,” says Bruce Waring (no relation to James), who recalls paying $75 a month for a spartan room from 1984 until he graduated three years later.
The houses are remembered as social gathering places for volleyball or television-watching. There was an annual “casino” fundraiser and rumors persist that a slot machine was buried in the basement of the original frat house.
Some of the key players over the years, Waring says, were Henry Toll, Ben Miyahara, Gatewood Milligan, Lee Bolling, Steve Castellano, Frank Baumgartner and Archibald Cox.
“It was a unique living experience,” Waring says. “We were right across the street from the hospital. Older students were there with younger students. People enjoyed it. It was fun."
The move to the Anschutz Medical Campus, while offering many advantages, ended the run of Nu Sigma Nu and its medical student housing.
Now the fraternity has staked a claim for students on the new campus.
With the move to the Anschutz Medical Campus, two of the Harrison buildings were sold. The third was purchased by CU for its original price. Together, that netted about $650,000. A fund was established to handle the financial legacy of Nu Sigma Nu.
The money was set aside for the right moment. That came when the CU Foundation proposed that the Nu Sigma Nu funds pay for the green roof. Waring and fellow trustee Al Lembitz talked it over and decided to support the project, designed to be a campus gathering place for medical students and others in health care professions.
Total cost of the roof is estimated at $700,000, so the foundation will try to raise the rest to support the students.
The legacy will live on in another way as well. Part of the facility will include an archival exhibit, plaque and signage, preserving the story of Nu Sigma Nu.
See a visual tour of the Health and Wellness Center.
Go here to donate to the Center.