Brother Basil Bouch

Purdue Personalities!

A few weeks ago, I asked fellow Boilermaker folks about their favorite Purdue Haunts. I got such a fantastic response, it got me thinking more of the days we spent with her… 

started recalling some campus personalities I knew. I’m sure Purdue’s people of prominence change from time to time, as the popular hangouts have. I wonder who was the notable Homo sapiens on campus at different eras in time. Who are the renowned people most students know today?

There may be more than 40,000 students, but someone always stands out in a crowd. Let’s make a collection of such people, but skip sports stars or famous astronauts or popcorn magnates, unless you actually interacted with them. I’ve got a sports star on my list, but we sat together in a class.

Who Were your favorites?

Help me develop a list of Purdue Personalities by leaving a comment! I’ll collect them and summarize them in a Post.

 

Here are a few of mine, I’ll write a post on each over the next few days (or weeks).

My Purdue Personalities are:
• Brother Max (Evangelical provocativeer)
• Dr. Tom Turpin (Entomology 101 Prof.)
• Dr. Kermit Scott (The Frog was named after him)
• Mark O’Hare (Art Gallery comic strip – artist)
• Glenn Robinson (Big Dog and classmate)
• Amelia (Dr. Santogrossi’s dog)
Brother Basil Bouch (My Friend and Campus Saint)

 

I’ll start with one of the dearest men I met on campus.

– Brother Basil Bouch

Basil Bouch
Basil Bouch

I first met my most favorite of Purdue Personalities, Basil Bouch at a Purdue ΔΧ rush party in 1987. The rush party… It was… a last-ditch expression of romantic nostalgia for our father’s era of fraternal debauchery, an expression of the ethos mythicized in the movie Animal House. My first thought was, “why is an old guy living in a college fraternity?” My brief encounter with him that day is not an anecdote one speaks of when writing an admiration post of one’s life role model. Yet, I can say that it dented and scratched the gilded armor of naïveté that I, a sheltered bumpkin, had brought with me to university.

He was just 54 at the time; that doesn’t seem very old now, but I thought of him to be in his 70s. My next few encounters with him revealed a puzzling old kook that identified himself with the Jesuit monastic order and seemed to socialize exclusively with people a third of his age. To quote a song from a few years later, “Things That Make You Go Hmmm…”

I’d often see him walking around campus. He walked slowly with a cane and a limp, his belly promptly leading the way and his head tilted back in such a way for his chins to seamlessly disappear into the neck of his flannel shirt, nostril hairs looking almost like a mustache. Suspenders often framed that belly and crossed over his back, not so much to keep his pants up, the belt did that, but more to identify himself as a non-student. I would uncomfortably chat with him when he’d pounce on me at the student union. “Mr. Ratliff, have you made a decision about which house to join?” Or elsewhere, “Mr. Ratliff, I’ll see you next week at the pledging ceremony?” I was indeed uncomfortable, but shortly after pledging the house, I started finding myself compulsively dropping by his room/office in the frat house basement. “Brother Ratliff, how are your classes going?”

Even though I was in a most egocentric stage of life, I learned the limp came from a jeep accident during the Korean War. He was affiliated with the Franciscan order, not the Jesuits. He was only one step away from his final vows to that order when he quit and went to barber school. He had a barbershop on North Western Ave. for many years. There he became affiliated with ΔΧ brothers while cutting their hair. These guys offered him the job of Fraternity House Pop. He was to be a kind of chaperone, a presence of an adult to keep the frat boys in bounds. By my time, he had a room elsewhere on campus, no longer living full time in the frat house. Yet, he was at every function, every party, and most meetings. He was poured the first beer from a keg. He played Santa each Christmas, posing for the proverbial photo with a house little sister sitting on his lap. Many a drinking song was parodied in his honor or rewritten to include his name.

I know, it might seem like I paint a pathetic picture of a middle-aged man relishing life in the debased world of young men’s first miss placed steps into freedom and adulthood. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Over the next 7 years, I began to know and greatly, deeply admire him. I discovered a very spiritual man who felt called to a mission of service toward young folks coming of age. As much of his good works and ministries were behind the scenes and confidential, that initial impression of a “Bad Grandpaw” was difficult for many to see pass. But, those with wise eyes saw a saint caring for his flock. He knew every alumni, he knew every parent, and he knew how well each of us was doing in class. I began to notice him on this or that organization’s board of directors. Brothers, with no previous evidence of empathy, mysteriously ended up working on various philanthropic campus projects. Students who turned refreshment into excess somehow found their way to campus counseling services or an AA meeting. A substance-free 12-step House appeared almost overnight on campus, right across the street from good ‘ol ΔΧ. And… Brother Basil was hosting it. As for me, I couldn’t find the same supportive connection to the church that I was blessed with in high school. Basil introduced me to an ecumenical group on campus and that helped with the transition. Even as a staunch Catholic he never evangelized or even talked about religion. He just lived it. Mother Theresa served the poor of Calcutta, Brother Basil served Purdue students. You can’t help the Calcutta poor without going to the Calcutta ghetto. So, living in a frat house was his calling.

I was blessed with an additional avenue to get to know this man better. He no longer drove, I believe this was due to his war injury. So, one afternoon, he asked me to drive him to Terre Haute. This drive turned into an annual ritual over the next four or five years. It seemed he had spent a good chunk of his childhood at the Gibault School for Boys. During his time, many of the residents were there as a reform school arrangement; but, Basil’s situation was more that of an orphan’s. Every year he’d return to the school, made an anonymous donation, and receive a tour of the grounds with updates on the school’s projects. While attending that school as a boy, he would do chores at Carmelite Monastery across the highway from the school. So, after our visits to the school, we’d always drop off a large box of chocolates for the nuns at the convent. The nuns would invite us back behind the cloister, so Basil could visit face to face. I’d then disappear for an hour or so, hanging in the bustling town of Terre Haute. When I returned and picked him up for his ride home, he would be in the best of moods, telling stories and reminiscing full of joy. Once back in Lafayette, we’d always end the day either at Harry’s Chocolate Shoppe or The Knickerbocker Saloon for a couple of rounds of beer!

 

Brother Basil T. Bauch died Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at the age of 84.  – His Obituary

 

?? Here’s to Brother Basil! ??
?? Brother Basil! ??
?? Brother Basil! ??
?? Here’s to Brother Basil! who’s with us tonight! ??
?? He’s Happy!?? ??
?? He’s Jolly!?? ??
?? He’s Horny, By Golly! ??
?? Here’s to Brother Basil! who’s with us tonight! ??

If any of you remember this man, I would love to read some reminiscences in the comments! Brother Basil the best of Purdue Personalities. 

 

Showing A Captian Gyros where the Blue Café used to be.

This Purdue reminiscence may be way too obscure. Yet, every alumni remembers a walk down Northwestern Ave to Chauncey Hill mall or Harry’s. And I imagine a few Purdue alumni from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s will remember the Exponent’s comic strip Art Gallery. Even so, you probably never noticed one of my favorite hangouts.

 

I would love to read about your favorite Purdue hang out? Others would like to read about your hangouts also. Please describe that place in the comments.

 

*** I imagine Harry’s will deserve a post all its own.

 

Harry's Chocolate Shop
Harry’s Chocolate Shop

 

Do y’all remember Mark O’Hare?

 

The Old Delta Chi house on 351 Northwestern Ave, West Lafaette, Indiana
Click for full size – The Old Delta Chi house on 351 Northwestern Ave.

 

Campus Map show the location of the Blue Cafe on the south east edge of campus. 132 Northerwestern Ave
Click for Full size – Purdue and Blue Cafe’s location.

It was about 3 blocks from my Fraternity.

 

Unless you had a closet full of tie-dye t-shirts, Birkenstock sandals, and skipped a few showers, I might tax your Purdue reminiscing ability with this memory. A button-down collared, hippiephobe type dude in my fraternity refused to walk on the same side of the street as the off-campus landmark, one I hope to help you to recall. On the other hand, I could walk in both worlds, hippie and frat-dude, and demonstrated it daily by walking to my favorite hangout at 132 Northwestern Ave. That address now houses a Greek Restaurant. But in the late ’80s, the brick facade had a white paint coat trimmed in sky blue and a sign out front reading, Blue Café.  

The owner, Iris, an immigrant from somewhere in South America, would give us a hello with nothing more than a heavily accented grunt as she sat gazing out the windows of her café. I remember her always looking tired as if making the daily special pasta salad thoroughly exhausted her. Thinking back on it, I might now attribute her thousand-yard stare to a harrowing escape from the rath of a South American dictatorship. But, as an undergrad, I was too self-absorbed to inquire. So, we will never know.  

Darren, the waitstaff/dishwasher, which I imagine received little more pay than a full meal, would serve us our $3 usual, a bottomless cup of coffee, and a loaf of sourdough bread. We’d sit there, get jacked up on caffeine, and chat for much of the first hour. Each of us would note the time we needed to head back to campus for our next class. 

Photo of Art Galley Tshirt showing O'Hare art style and the charactors in a lamborghini.
Click for full size.

Most days, Mark O’Hare sat on the edges of our group drawing the following week’s Art Gallery entry for The Exponent. Having that little bit of lead time over the rest of the campus to read his comic strip gave us a smug insider feeling, like a spy knowing some remarkable “TOP SECRET” intel. A feeling later vindicated when Mark became a big-time animator for such shows as Ren and Stimpy and SpongeBob SquarePants.

If you were lucky, you’d head off to class before the chess boards came out. Because once the Staunton pattern pieces met the vinyl green and white checked mats, folks would be trapped, only looking at their watches with a cursory, “Damn, I missed that class. I’ll make the next one.” Suddenly, Iris came alive with the games underway, her accent vanished, and her attention honed in on the boards while declaring, “I’ve got winner.” She wasn’t a terrific player. Yet, she won most of her games, most likely because she did provide the all-you-can-eat sourdough bread and coffee for $3. Heck, we knew that was an unbelievable deal, even in the late ’80s.

Iris would try to supplement the profitless weekday bread and coffee sales with live music and candlelight dinners on weekend evenings. She would cram a two or three-piece ensemble into one of the front window nooks. The preppie/hippie dichotomy of my fraternity, ΔΧ, even produce a poet songwriter named Corry Rope, who scored several of the Blue Café gigs. I became very impressed with this upperclassman for his grand accomplishment.

Yet, I regretted his appearance at my hangout because of one incredibly embarrassing candlelight serenade. In the middle of his guitar set, accompanied by a guy beating rhythms on a five-gallon pickle pale, Corry catches me, Andrew Jerman, and John Tarman sneaking our way to the back of the dining area. Corry then starts inserting my name into bawdy, improvised lyrics. The crowd roared with laughter at my expense. That was probably the only time I ever had the desire to exit the Blue Café.

This bizarre café with a cartoonish Beatnikesque ethos on the edges of Purdue’s campus has become the measuring stick for all other coffee houses I have ever discovered in my life. Noplace has ever measured up, probably because I have mythicized the place a wee bit. Yet, I still seek it. It must have a starving artist archetype sitting in the back. We didn’t have Jack Kerouac, but we did have Mark O’Hare. Gaudy music and poetry must ooze through the walls, staff must have mysterious backstories, and diverse people should meld into a heterogeneous group of patrons. The new café should boast pseudo-intellectual conversation that diverts one from any meaningful action. If you can find any place with all that for three bucks, I’m there, baby!


Like my post? Here is a post with similar themes of nostalgic Purdue hangouts, Bangert: More tales of the long, lost haunts near Purdue. His joints are not as obscure as mine. Dave Bangert with the Journal & Courier, Published August 18, 2018.  

Highly unlikely, but are there any photos of the Blue Café?