A Great Pilam Life: Harvey Masonek Joins the Chapter Eternal
By Chris Rakunas, IEC Treasurer
In the Cal Tau Chapter, we have this expression: that guy's a real Joe Pilam. We use it when we're talking about the alumni who have dedicated time and money, those that show up to events and help our undergrads achieve success after they graduate. It's not just being there for more than 4 years, but rather a reflection of the quality of the time the alum spends with the chapter.
The first Joe Pilam I met was Harvey Masonek. I remember pledging in the Fall of '97 and seeing Harvey for the first time at our Alumni Dinner. There were lots of other important people there - even a young, spry future IEC President, Jeff Buhler, was attending as a Leadership Consultant - but Harvey stood out to me. Harvey had pledged more than a half-century before I did, and when he graduated from Berkeley, FDR was still president of the United States. But despite the age difference, Harvey made me feel warm and welcome. He greeted me with a firm handshake and welcomed me to Pi Lambda Phi.
The other brothers in my pledge class all said the same thing: Harvey's one of Us. He may have been old school, but he sure felt like he was part of our generation. The longer I stayed in Pilam, the more I realized everyone felt that way about him. Brothers from the 80's said they felt like he was theirs; brothers from the 70's and 60's said Harvey was an honorary member of their pledge classes. In fact, I don't think I ever heard any of the 1,000 living Cal Tau Alumni say anything to the contrary. He was warm and inviting, always putting others at ease with the grace of a gentleman. While Harvey had been a very, very successful businessman in San Francisco and led multiple fundraising efforts to build new buildings at Berkeley, he never forgot to show up to dinners, to tailgates, or rush events to make sure his legacy - our legacy - was living on.
Somewhere around my senior year I finally got around to asking Harvey what was it like 'in the olden days.' He laughed. "One day, today is going to be 'the olden days' to someone," he told me. Then he proceeded to tell me about what the Phi B D merger was like for our chapter. He told me about the fundraising efforts he had to go through in the 40's to buy our house for a whopping $13,000 from Hillel. He told me about joining the military during World War II and what Berkeley was like when he returned. Harvey told me that he still met with brothers from his era every month for lunch south of San Francisco, and he invited me along.
I think I was too in awe of him to say anything. He had done so much in his life and he was still taking time to talk with me.
A few years later, when Harvey was in his mid-80's, I was at a rush event our chapter does where we bring together alumni and rushees for dinner in San Francisco. It has always been a great opportunity to show that our chapter doesn't say, "Not 4 years" but that we live it. About halfway through the dinner, Harvey had to excuse himself because he had to run to another meeting.
"What's the matter Harvey?" I asked loudly. "You got a hot date?"
Without missing a beat, Harvey stood up, placed his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Chris, all my dates are hot." The actives in the house laughed and snapped, and the rushees got their first taste of a man who they started to feel was a part of the class of '06, too.
When Harvey died last week, my sadness was not so much because of all the wonderful experiences I had with him, nor the fact that I knew I would never sit down to dinner next to him again. I am thankful that I got to know this man over the last 15 years, that he was able to influence my love for Pilam, and that he showed his leadership by example. His life was an instruction manual of how to act as a gentleman, to leave every situation better than you found it, and make others around ou better. My sadness comes from the fact that this influence would be missing for every class in the future.
Harvey Masonek was my brother, and I will sorely miss him.
Harvey was a big supporter of Pi Lambda Phi and his beloved CA Tau chapter. Donationas may be made to the Pi Lambda Phi Educational Foundation, or the CA Tau chapter at UC Berkeley.
About the Author: Chris Rakunas is the current Treasurer for Pi Lambda Phi's International Executive Council. Chris is Program Director at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He has authored two books, Tears for the Mountain and The 8th Doll.