The date was November 21, 1969, the eve of Big Game. Two students who didn't know each other at that time remember one of the last bonfires at Lake Lagunita.
Susie: As frosh, the Class of '73 was charged with the project, and we had to build the structure that would burn. I helped organize it. My co-chair, Kim Rose, and I divided up the freshman dorms and made presentations about the events and the frosh responsibilities. The turnout was terrific.
Greg: I was typically suspicious of "school spirit" traditions . . . but I wandered down to Lake Lag to observe. I found a set of telephone poles forming a circle about 25 feet wide and a flatbed truck right next to it loaded with wooden pallets. Industrious freshmen were hauling pallets to the pile inside the poles and stacking them very evenly, leaving an open chimney in the middle.
So I stepped up and helped move one pallet. And then another. And pretty soon I was on the pile itself, hauling more pallets up with ropes as the truck was emptied and another truck arrived with a new load. More freshmen got swept into the project, and the pile grew faster and faster.
Susie: As the time for the lighting grew near, the southern end of the lakebed was crowded with students, and LSJUMB was playing on the boathouse platform. Just as one last freshman boy standing on top of the structure tossed on the last pallet, an announcer called the captains of the football team and me to come up to the boathouse.
Greg: As the sun set, the pallets were nearly as high as the tops of the telephone poles. One by one, the freshmen climbed down off the pile, leaving me with one last pallet to position. I shoved it into place, and in the twilight I could see that a crowd had formed in the lakebed. A tanker truck had pulled up, and some guys were standing near the pile with a hose. I scrambled down and merged into the crowd while the pile got sprayed with oil.
Susie: The torch carriers jumped off the boathouse platform and ran through the crowd. There was a sort of "parting of the sea" amid the frenzy and whooping. The energy, the noise and the thrill of that 45-second sprint!
Greg: The fire grew slowly, then became massive. A bright spot appeared in the fire, confirming a rumor that some engineering students had smuggled a piece of magnesium into the pile. After about 30 minutes, the flames were three times as high as the telephone poles, and the entire lakebed and crowd were lit by the glow. We were told airline pilots could see the fire from 100 miles away.
Susie: The best part of the story, though, is that the last boy who climbed down from the top would become my husband.
Greg: We really met 15 years later—at an alumni rally before the '84 Stanford-UCLA game: the last guy to throw a pallet on the bonfire and the girl who threw her torch on the pile.
Susie Myers DePrez and Greg DePrez live in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.