Acacia Fraternity’s memorial rock sits on the corner of Hillview Avenue and South Prince Street in Brookwood. In the background sits Tau Kappa Epsilon’s memorial rock. / Kat Delaney / Snapper
Central Pennsylvania is well known for its rich history, exemplified by our landmarks and structures that have been preserved through time, such as former school buildings, classrooms, homes, and other beautiful nods to our past. As one walks past the former banks, schools, and parks in the towns and cities we know and love, it may be easy to forget how much has truly happened there. When we fail to maintain and appreciate these buildings and landmarks, they are often forgotten by the always rushing eyes of humans, breaking down and welcoming nature into their walls until the Earth finally reclaims them.
Greek life is and always has been an intriguing subculture at Millersville, one that is often overlooked by the general public, despite having a unique and fascinating history of its own. Since the first fraternities began sprouting on campus in the mid-1960s, thousands of bright and ambitious men have come and gone, but the brotherhood and legacy they left behind still remains.
One long-standing tradition of Greek life is a competition to see which organization can paint their letters on the most rocks in Brookwood, an area of student apartments located near Millersville’s campus. The unspoken rule, however, is that the memorial rocks always stay untouched. These rocks, which one may pass by all over Brookwood, are dedicated to the memory of deceased brothers of various fraternities. A symbol of compassion and brotherhood, the rocks are considered an integral part of remembering the fallen men and their impact on the community.
The rocks located at the corner of South Prince Street and Hillview Avenue are dedicated to the deceased members of three active organizations – Acacia, Lambda Chi Alpha, and Tau Kappa Epsilon – while Sigma Tau Gamma, another active fraternity on campus, has a large memorial rock located in a forested area behind South Village.
Sigma Tau Gamma’s rock, located alongside the Conestoga river in a clearing known as “the Bush,” has been around about as long as the chapter itself, containing nearly half a century of local history. Originally a popular party spot, the Bush has since evolved into a place of peace, tranquility, and brotherhood. Dedicated to the founding brothers, the rock, now painted with big blue Greek letters, ΣΤΓ, sits in the clearing as a symbolic beacon of the fraternity and its values.
Despite being made out of love and comfort, however, the rock has experienced much hate in its time – vandalism and hate speech and symbols have been planted on the rock across several incidents over the course of the years, forcing brothers to paint over the rock.
“It’s disrespectful to see this happen to our rock because the brothers put in so much effort,” says Hunter Lebo, the fraternity’s social chair, “when we paint the rock, we try to keep it together and do it as a way for us to get to know each other and learn about our history, to show that we care about this fraternity … the Bush is a place to get together and be with nature.”
Although active brothers and new members hold the primary responsibility of maintaining the Bush, alumni and members of sororities on campus, including Alpha Sigma Tau and Delta Zeta, have pitched in to help. The fraternity also plans to include a garden with white roses, ΣΤΓ’s official flower.
“The Bush is a place where our alumni all come and bring their families to show them what they were and still are a part of,” Dan Getz, former president of ΣΤΓ, adds, “it’s a physical part of the university that shows our dedication to our brothers, our school, and our community.”
Tau Kappa Epsilon’s memorial rock is dedicated to three deceased brothers – Eric “Cuddles” Gotwols, Rick “Jacque” McLaughlin, and Qwan “Koko” Lewis – and a former TKE sweetheart and alum of the Sigma Phi Delta sorority, Nicole “Cheka” Schneider Bomberger, who passed away in 2017 after battling cancer.
Acacia’s rock in Brookwood was initially dedicated to member and former chapter president Dominic Geraci, who was killed in 2007 in a car accident. Originally black with gold letters, the rock was later dedicated to two more brothers – Steven Daverio and later Garrett Chellis – who also died in vehicle-related incidents while active in the fraternity. Shortly after being rededicated to Chellis, the rock was redesigned and repainted by Alpha Xi Delta sister and Acacia sweetheart, Kay Igyor, in August of 2020 after being vandalized.
Today, the rock serves as a centerpiece for the chapter, providing the brothers with an opportunity to reflect on their history, friendship, and devotion to the community. Once a semester, members clean up the rock and hold a “code night” where they honor the fallen brothers to whom the rock is dedicated.
“It’s one of the things we all have in common,” says Franklin Klinger, venerable dean of Acacia, “we care about the rock, take care of it, and use it as an example of our organization. It’s good to look back at what we stand for.”
While the rock reminds the brothers of the tragedy of their past, it also gives them hope and the opportunity to support causes that will improve their future. Acacia now works with various organizations to address and prevent drunk driving, as part of their local philanthropy project.
Klinger adds, “nobody is invincible, we will all be on a rock eventually. It is important we all leave a mark so brothers can know that there are others; know they are not alone.”
Lambda Chi Alpha’s green, yellow, and purple rock in Brookwood is dedicated to Cristopher “Cris” Ciarrocchi, a senior brother who passed away in 2010 due to a car accident.
During his time as an active member of Lambda Chi Alpha (ΛΧΑ), student Troy McIlwaine claimed one special rock in Brookwood near S. Duke St. that was always his. Whether participating in the tradition or just relaxing to blow off steam, McIlwaine would paint the rock solid gold. Tragedy struck the chapter on August 4, 2017, when McIlwaine committed suicide. His special rock, now bright purple, is dedicated to his memory.
“Troy was one of the kindest people I met when I joined ΛΧΑ,” says Richard Harbaugh, an alum and dear friend of McIlwaine, “he was the kind of person to give you the shirt off his back if you needed it and was always in your corner rooting for you even when you weren’t rooting for yourself. He had a charisma about him that lit up any room he walked into … when we lost Troy, our chapter was lost. You could feel the impact that he had left resonate at every meeting he was no longer attending … We commemorate his honor with one of his favorite things while he was joining our chapter. Because his pride for ΛΧΑ was so great, he wanted everyone to know those were the values he represented and the type of man he was.”
Regardless of one’s views on fraternities or Greek life as a whole, one can understand the importance these memorial rocks have on the young men and the community they represent. While the memorials may have sprouted from something so tragic, they, in turn, allowed opportunity to blossom – the desire to raise awareness of pressing issues that especially affect college students, such as mental health and drunk driving, and to emphasize the service and brotherhood that truly make these organizations. By respecting and honoring these rocks and the individuals they are dedicated to, the Millersville community also preserves each and every corner of their history,
This is one in a series of articles featuring the historic and abandoned sites and buildings of central Pennsylvania. To learn more, check out the Snapper website or keep an eye out for future “History Rotting Away” articles in the Feature section of our print editions.