Working for Woody

Fraternity brothers organize to look after one of their own

By Ryan Call

In October, alumni of Mason’s Alpha Sigma Chi fraternity held an unofficial reunion at the home of fellow brother Steve “Woody” Carlson. On that day, more than 17 alumni gathered at Carlson’s home to patch walls, hang new doors, and paint. As they worked, the men shared pictures and reminisced. What began as an organized relief effort to help a brother in need turned into a memorable gathering for those who had not seen each other in many years.

Carlson, who attended Mason on and off from 1987 to 1993, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993. Two years ago, he became wheelchair bound, making day-to-day tasks increasingly difficult. Soon he was unable to work, and doing the most basic upkeep on his condominium was next to impossible. His sister, Anne, and nephew moved in to help.

News of Carlson’s situation reached Shane Womack, BS Economics ’90, who had been organizing happy hour get-togethers for Sigma Chi brothers in Northern Virginia. After contacting Carlson to see how he could help, Womack decided the best course of action was to work on Carlson’s condominium. Using the e-mail list that he had compiled from the happy hours, Womack informed the other brothers of the situation and put together a plan of action.

Womack was flooded with e-mails offering all forms of help. Sigma Chi brothers who could not physically help sent in money and supplies. Others assessed the property the week before the work date to figure out exactly what needed to be done. The rest agreed to show up on a Saturday to complete the physical labor. After that day’s work, Womack found that the group had extra money and supplies, so he organized a smaller crew to take care of any unfinished business in November.

What surprised Womack the most was how fast the project fell into place. He heard about Carlson’s situation in mid-September, and by October he had gathered an enthusiastic group of volunteers that far exceeded his expectations. Brothers traveled to the area from Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and he received donations from others as far away as Illinois and California, amassing more than $1,800.

In addition to fixing up the condominium, the brothers helped Carlson in several other ways. Womack learned that Carlson needed a hospital bed, so he contacted a friend in New England who could provide one. Another brother, Matt Jesinsky, BS Marketing ’90, who operates a shipping company, had two beds shipped to Carlson at no cost. In addition, the brothers circulated his sister’s resume around the group to help her find a job. Jesinsky found her a job at his company.

Most important, the entire experience reminded the group why they joined the fraternity. “Woody helped us to remember why we became Sigs in the first place,” says Jon Lowder, BA English ’90. “It is through experiences like these that we realize that the bonds of brotherhood are truly lifelong.”

Womack and others have since become more involved with the Sigma Chi chapter on campus, and many of the brothers have vowed to keep in touch more than they had. In an e-mail to his fraternity brothers after the project ended, Carlson wrote, “Thanks doesn’t really seem to come close, because it did my heart as much good as the house. Not the repairs, but to see everyone again. I know a lot has changed over the years, but how cool it is to see you guys again, like it was yesterday.”

Photo of Woody (click to enlarge)

Click to Enlarge - (Left to right) Russ Lowder, BA Government and Politics ’92; Jeff Ermalinski, BS Decision Science ’91; Jesinsky; Carlson; Francis Shafer, BS Accounting ’91; Rich Manfredo, BS Finance ’91; Eric Steele, BA Art (Studio) ’96; Frank McGinn, BS Biology ’92 and BS Medical Technology ‘93; Womack; Keven Kvasnicka, BS Computer Science’91; Dave Fraser, BS Electrical Engineering ’91; Jon Lowder; Tom Wolffe, BA Economics ’91; Jeff Linden, BS Economics ’92; Ron Luna, BS Psychology ’92; Rocky Benedetto, who attended Mason from fall ’85 to spring ’87; Brannen Taylor, BA International Relations ’91