During the post depression years, when he was at City College, Harold Shames recalls that the liberal arts students could be found conducting vigorous lunchroom alcove debates about the politics of the day. Not so for engineering students, says Mr. Shames. “The engineering program required daily diligence in our studies. Any spare time after lunch was used to solve course problems, not world problems,” he explains. “A no nonsense environment prevailed. To ease the pressure of the times, students established an engineering social fraternity, Sigma Kappa Tau (SKT).” The group would repair to their “frat house,” a nearby fourth-floor walk-up, for schmoozing, card playing and consulting a repository of engineering reports donated by students who had successfully completed their coursework.
After graduation, many SKT brothers scattered, serving in the military or staffing the Manhattan Project, NACA (NASA’s antecedent) and the defense industries. But, a core group remained in the New York City area, and they began a yearly tradition of family picnic reunions. These were so successful that, after a decade, they started meeting each fall in the Catskill resorts. At one point, some of the group appeared in “The Gig”, a movie filmed at the now defunct Sacks Lodge in Saugerties, NY. The movie is still seen occasionally on late-night TV. Meeting at the resorts is a tradition that they have continued in retirement.
In the mid-nineties, after over half a century of individual support for CCNY, the SKT brothers’ enduring ties led them to initiate a group effort on behalf of the fraternity. Biomedical engineering was just emerging as a new field at the School of Engineering. It incorporated all the engineering disciplines, and so it was a perfect focus for their philanthropy. At the suggestion of Distinguished Professor Sheldon Weinbaum, they established the SKT Memorial Fund to underwrite annual lectures in biomedical engineering. Harold Hassenfluss ’43 ME jump-started the fund in memory of his wife, and, since then, the lectures have been given by scholars of national and international renown.
Time has taken its toll, but this past September, the annual reunion drew thirteen celebrants: Len Krawitz ’43 ChE, Murray Reich, ’43 ChE, Sidney Stoller ’43 ChE, Richard Kaplan ’44 ChE, Philip Kolchin ’44 CE, Harold Shames ’44 ME and their wives and Harold Hassenfluss ’43 ME. “Over the decades,” says Mr. Shames, “there is one ritual we have religiously observed. At the end of the occasion, we would all rise and sing ‘Lavender.’ When alums other than our SKT group heard our resounding ‘Sturdy Sons of City College,’ they too would stand and join the chorus.”