WATCHDOGS OF THE CAMPUS
Even before a Blue Key National Honor Fraternity had been formed, a select group of Mines students felt the need for a "watchdog society" on campus. No one is quite sure when the impromptu group started, but Pi Warren, ’13, sensed that they were operating undercover on the campus when he returned to Mines in 1923.
Operating like the vigilantes of the early west, they called themselves "Vigilantes". According to Maxwell McCormack, he and two others of the Class of ’26, Cookie Evans and Johnny O’Connor, were responsible for the formation of the Vigs, with O’Connor the driving force.
Another classmate, Bill Niemi, gave a hint of that group in a letter on January 30, 1966: "The composition of the group was a matter of considerable conjecture on the campus, which also served to keep up interest in the antics of the organization."
Niemi also offered a logical explanation for the formation of the Vigs. All other schools on the Mines football schedule were growing in size, and the CSM team was no longer the terror of the league. The Vigs were primarily concerned that Mines spirit would wane.
Many of the Vigs stunts were impromptu, such that no one was ever sure which members had been responsible for a campus shenanigan. Vigs would rise early and set off dynamite in the clay pits on Saturday mornings. Others would paint "Give ‘em Hell Mines" signs around the campus and downtown.
There were mysterious midnight raids that created a lot of scuttlebutt around the campus among the faculty and student body. Miners, not living up to cherished traditions, might be escorted up the canyon, given a lecture, advised to "Shape up or Ship Out", and given the privilege of walking home. No one relished the thought of a return visit.
Finally, the Vigilantes came out in the open. In October 1925, they officially organized and published their purposes: "(1) To promote Mines spirit, and (2) To advocate those ideals of college life which will be of credit to each of us, and to our Alma Mater."
Ten seniors of the Class of ’26 signed that declaration: Leroy Brown, Flavius Wood, Maxwell McCormack, Bill Niemi, Ralph Curtis, Robley Sopris, Johnny O’Connor, Vernon Mattson, Gaylord "Buck" Weaver, and Paul "Cookie" Evans.
A lot of the campus shenanigans could be attributed to the Vigs, including the building of a "Denver University Toonerville Trolley", which was paraded before the Mines-DU game. Quite often they would borrow coffins from the local undertaker and hold wakes on campus, particularly at Homecoming rallies.
Johnny O’Connor, a hell-raising Irishman, who felt that having fun and enjoying life was part of the game, was always the leader of that group. While working for another Mines man, Ding Deringer, ’24, Johnny O’Connor was the unfortunate victim of the Bolivian revolution. In its 100 years as an educational institution, Mines Spirit was never more typified than with Johnny O’Connor, a truly great Mines man.
After the Vigs announced themselves publicly, Johnny O’Connor and others began to discuss the possibility of starting a chapter of the Blue Key National Honor Fraternity, which had been founded at the University of Florida to secure all booster organizations under the same name.
National Blue Key’s motto is: Zu Yiihpeton "Serving, I live", which may be further interpreted to mean, "I express my own life and character in what I am able to accomplish for my fellow man." Official colors are azure and gold.
On January 29, 1926, Vigs and representatives from various fraternities and the Barbs met at the Berrimoor Hotel and the Vigilante Chapter of Blue Key was formed. Of the original group of Vigs, all but Leroy Brown became members of the Blue Key.
Besides the nine original Vigs, seven additional students became charter members of Blue Key: John T. Crawford, ’27, Philip Doerr, ’27, Hubert Graves, Cecil Gray, Gordon MacDonald, ’28, Richard Wagner, ’26, and Clem Weintz, ’27. Apparently, Hubert Graves and Cecil Gray did not graduate as they are not listed in the Mines directory.
As faculty representative, Pi Warren became a charter member, being issued Key #2. Johnny O’Connor received Key #1