The following was written by Doug Edwards, class of ’67, with recollections from his fellow Upsilon Omega Pi brothers, and using some photographs from the University Archives. Upsilon Omega Pi was a social fraternity for men at University of Portland from 1950-1992.
In the run-up to our reunion later this month I’ve heard from quite a few Upsilon Brothers from the late 50’s and 60’s asking, “What happened to the hearse?” In response to the question I began a dialogue with some of our brothers from that era. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, none had a full memory of the sequence of events that lead to its sale, but collectively we were able to establish a timeline of events beginning with 1958 and ending in 1970.
The Upsilon Omega Pi Hearse was a 1940 La Salle that was purchased from a UO (University of Oregon) fraternity in 1958 and initially painted white. No one can quite pinpoint what it year it was painted purple with white woodwork, but it was probably in 1960.
(Note: a 1940 La Salle hearse (but without the running boards or carved wood windows) was used for Rosa Parks’ funeral in Detroit in 2005 ….although it’s very unlikely that this was the Upsilon Hearse, I would like to believe that parts from our fraternity hearse were used to restore this beautiful former symbol of Upsilon Omega Pi).
Over the years it became increasingly difficult for UP to allow some very “normal” Upsilon/student activity as society became more and more litigious whenever student hijinks results in injury. Several “relatively minor” incidents occurred during the ’60’s…..but then in 1968 a female freshman fell from the back of the hearse while it was being driven from campus onto Willamette Boulevard. That episode resulted in her spending at least four days in the hospital with a concussion and other injuries. Although there was no apparent lawsuit filed in this incident, it would appear the accumulation of incidents and the potential for lawsuits caused the UP administration to take an even dimmer view of the Upsilon Hearse…..probably marking the beginning of the end for the fraternity’s best known symbol.
(Note: the female student that fell from the hearse not only recovered from her fall, she graduated from UP with a Bachelor of Arts in 1971, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1972, and a Master of Science in Nursing in 1999 before earning her Doctor of Science from Johns Hopkins University.)
Although the cost of licensing the hearse was relatively inexpensive, even for college students, the expense of maintaining the antique hearse and purchasing liability insurance that had sky rocketed in price over the years became an entirely different matter. It would seem that sometime between 1968 or 1969 the UP administrators banned the hearse from campus and the economic reality of upkeep and the potential liability it presented to both the university and Upsilon Omega Pi forced the sale of the hearse in 1970.
No one has reported who the hearse was sold to or for how much it was sold, but there have been unsubstantiated reports that it was seen in major disrepair in a field somewhere in the Medford area (or was it Roseburg?) at some point in the last 30 years.
Most of the favorite memories shared by the Upsilon Brothers over the last few weeks center around the UP Homecoming parades in downtown Portland, the Speakeasy Dances, partying in and around the hearse during the always raucous Barn Dance, and parking the hearse sideways in a drive-in movie…..with two speakers, two heaters, a pony key and a couch, it was the ultimate in college-age entertainment.
There were 1,032 La Salle hearses and ambulances built in 1940, the last year the La Salle was produced, but the Upsilon Hearse was rather unique and was actually quite unusual because of its running boards and wood sides carved in the “cathedral” style. A 1940 La Salle hearse such as that once owned by Upsilon Omega Pi is now so rare that there may be only one or two remaining in the world in restored condition. In today’s market the hearse could apparently sell for between $250,000 and $300,000, but for those of us who enjoyed the hearse for its 12 years as the symbol of Upsilon Omega Pi it was a great source of fun and entertainment….and you can’t put a price tag on that!!
Below is the last KNOWN picture of the Upsilon Hearse…..note the sign on the door no longer reads University of Portland below the Greek letters ΥΩΠ.
You can share your Upsilon Omega Pi Hearse stories at the UP Reunion on June 28th….. see you there!
Written by: Doug Edwards, Class of 1967