This past fall, I wrote my senior history thesis on the history of the University of Dallas and its place within the context of Catholic higher education in post-WWII America. As such, I spent a large amount of time in our school’s archives, as well as interviewing alumni, faculty and former and current administrators. I uncovered many interesting and little-known anecdotes about our school. The University News has asked me to do a series of pieces highlighting the most fascinating of these.
In 1984, a group of University of Dallas seniors from Madonna Hall took it upon themselves to preserve the raucous, untamed and eccentric spirit of the student body that defined much of campus life in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The main product of their ambitions was “The Groundhogiad” or “The Fougerroussey,” a UD-tailored, 470-line parody of the “Telemachia” in the “Odyssey.” The poem was written by Joe Kelly (’84), now professor of English at the College of Charleston, and his accomplice, Mark Devlin (’84), along with the help of other Madonna men, in their last semester at UD. It was penned at a time when the Reagan administration was working to raise the drinking age for good, and a new administration at UD was confining all on-campus alcohol consumption to the Rathskellar and discouraging excessive Groundhog celebrations.
The parody finds the heroic Dr. Jim Fougerousse (’67), former dean of students and head of the Rome program for many years, who helped start Groundhog as an undergrad, returning to save UD from the “suitors” of the new administration, such as UD’s first provost, Dr. John Paynter.
Dr. Louise Cowan, who started the Lit Trad sequence, plays the Athenian role, and Sybil Novinski, who ran much of the day-to-day business of the university at the time, is Penelope. Telemachus travels to Gregory, Madonna and Theresa Halls in search of stories of his father and is met by men of the class of 1984 and others, such as Peter Blute (’82), father of now-junior Tom Blute and former Rome RA Peter Blute. Other characters found within the story are Dr. John Norris and Dr. Gregory Roper, who were seniors at the time of the Groundhogiad’s conception.
More than an act of goofy defiance against the new administration, the work was the seniors’ last ode to the UD Groundhog celebration and the legend of a man that had shaped their UD life.
“We knew the Fougerousse myth before we met the man,” Kelly said. “In the darkest hours of night, when only the 24-hour Denny’s was open, our minds too exhausted to sleep, dumb ideas and profound reeling together, we would sit on the floor of Madonna Hall and talk, a clan of 20 or 30. Peter Blute was king: RA of the first floor, full black beard and shining eyes. His voice held us together … Pete told us about Fougerousse. His name was a talisman. Fougerousse: never Jim Fougerousse or Dr. Fougerousse. The way Durante degli Alighieri was always just Dante, he was just Fougerousse … He was legend to us, alive only in talk, because he wasn’t in Dallas. Like the new pope, he lived in Rome, and Rome was that arch through which gleamed the untraveled world.”
The authors sought not only to put into writing the great myth of “Fougi,” but also to make legends of themselves and their upperclassmen hero.
“There’s a glamour in seeing your name in print, and that bit of sheer egoism accounts for the catalogs of characters,” Kelly said. “ We took delight in enumerating ourselves, as if scratching our initials on the David’s butt … The upper-classmen already were gone when Mark and I wrote the poem, their memory dying with us, unknown to the ever-renewing crop of younger students. ‘Blute’ and ‘Moser’ were conjuring words from an old language only we knew. So we wrote down their names and sometimes a distinguishing phrase, a moustache or a gesture.”
If you would like to continue the myth of Fougerousse and the legends of the class of 1984, “The Groundhogiad” can be found at alumni.udallas.edu, the latest edition of the student publication “The Avant-Guard” (contact email@example.com) or at campfire readings in woods near you.