Encore - Memories of Giffy

Snake Bit

I was an OX pledge during the 1959 school year.  I had a hobby that both intrigued and frightened Giffy.  I kept snakes - some poisons.  I actually kept a rattlesnake under lock & key in the house. House Mom kept the key.  I kept a bottle of antivenom in the big kitchen fridge (in case of a problem.) That antivenom scared the spit out of Giffy.  He did however - tolerate it and it stayed there for that whole year.
Bob Burlbaugh

In Giff's Own Words....

(from the April 1, 1959 Omegaphone - by E. T. Gifford)

Greetings Alumni of Omega Chapter of Theta Chi.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you home again. I am looking with great anticipation of seeing you who graduated from this great institution in the past twenty years. Seeing and serving you will be a great pleasure and honor. I do feel that it is the will of God, the great Architect of the universe, who blessed us with the best health, enabling us to carry on our duties of service in the communities where we live.

Since this is true, I do think that you should take time out to visit me, and help celebrate my twentieth year of service at Omega Chapter. Seeing those who were instrumental in employing me for this job, of which I am humbly proud, will bring me much happiness. Many changes have been made through the years, and they have been great ones. Through these changes have come progress and achievement. And, I have enjoyed the love and friendship of the entire brotherhood.

Giffy and Count Basie - "What do you play?" . . . "The skillet. "

(from the March 1992 Omegaphone) 

Dear Brother,

I'm responding to your request for anecdotes about our fabulous cook, Emanuel Travasso Gifford. One of the finest men I've ever known. I have one, of many, which stands out in my memory, and which I shall never forget! It is absolutely true, although the exact date is lost in the mist of time. It goes like this:

It was during my junior year, 1942. I was house manager, which meant I was in charge of firing the old coal furnace. Since I had to arise before most of the other brothers in order to get up steam in the system. I spent a fair amount of time with Giffy in his kitchen while he prepared breakfast, and I awaited my first shovelfuls of coal of the morning to take effect.

One morning. I mentioned to Giff that in a few weeks, as spring approached, an all-college dance would feature the Count Basie Band (a leading black bandleader of the day). To my surprise, and disbelief, Giffy replied. "Hey that's great, the Count and I are old friends."

The word quickily spread throughout the house that Giffy, once again, was into one of his wild tales. Thus, it wasn't long, before a group of us hurled the gauntlet at his feet, and dared him to meet us at the dance, during the first intermission, at which point we would escort him to the bandstand. There he could greet his old pal, the Count. Much to our surprise, Giffy accepted the challenge, and there the matter lay until the night of the dance.

Sure enough, Giff showed up, mounted the bandstand and, shouted. "Hey Count." Basie, hearing his name, turned, and with surprise showing on his face. replied. "Giff, where the hell you been?" The two men embraced, and Giff, looking over his shoulder, favored us with the smug look of the victor.

At this point, students began asking Giff for his autograph. One girl wondered, aloud, what instrument he played. Gifty was quick to reply, "The skillet." The Theta Chi brothers and their dates then gave our esteemed cook, and friend, the ovation he deserved, while we, too, relished his moment of fame!

Henry F. Pierce' 43

Giffy Was a Good Friend

(from the March 1992 Omegaphone)

I met Giffy in the fall of '48. It was House Party Weekend, and I was up from a Penn State Center to visit my high school sweetheart. When I moved to campus in '49, spaghetti lunches before football games, lobster dinners for Mother's Day, and steak and corn barbecues at Whipple's were a large piece of my life at Penn State - and still some of my fondest memories.

We were long-since pinned when my boyfriend went into the Air Force. I was still at Penn State for another year. Giffy understood - I was so alone. One night he called me at the dorm and said he just happened to have an apple pie left over. Now Giffy NEVER just happened to have an extra pie. He counted, everything for his kitchen carefully, but that night he drove a pie over to Simmons in his big Caddie - just for me.

Than one night, I was doing a show at Center Stage and Giffy asked me to stop at Theta Chi after the show for a bite to eat. Yeah, a BITE! He cooked me a whole huge steak and gave me a vegetable dish full of fries with salad and dessert accompanying. I sat in Giffy's kitchen late that night telling him all about the Air Force as I ate.

Giffy was a good friend to me, generous, kind and understanding. I wrote him when we were married (39 years, 3 children and 1 grandchild ago). I knew Giffy would care.


Bea Wallace (PSU '52 - Mrs Bruce M. Wallace '51)

Giff and Louis Armstrong

(from the March 1992 Omegaphone)

June 22, 1991

Omegaphone Editor,

Sorry I don't know your name. Thanks for the copy of your May issue. Your request for items about Giffy brought back a few memories. In 1954, I was a second-year journalism student at PSU and a pledge at Theta Chi. My buddy John Strakey had your job, editing the Omegaphone, and he asked me to help him fill the space. For about a semester I contributed chapter news items. We always ragged Giffy about his belly-busting pancakes, and to tease him, I wrote a little piece of doggerel that went something like this:

Ode to Giffy's Pancakes
Heigh diddle-diddle,
The fat's on the griddle,
The batter is whipped with a spoon,
I lauged and lauged,
The cook's gone daft,
He's mixing it in the Spittoon!

It wasn't too good, but Giff dutifully chuckled when he read it. Another time, when Louis Armstrong was appearing on campus, Giff began regaling is with stories about his early years in New Orleans. Giffy said he and Louie were pals in the old days. He said he'd been a chef in a fancy bawdy house, and that Satchmo used to play there, to entertain the customers. As I recall, most of us who heard the story took it with a grain of salt.

But after Louie's performance, he appeared at Theta Chi late at night, aced to speak to Giffy, and they had a grand reunion that lasted until the wee hours. I wasn't there, but the brothers who were said the two old friends sat in Giff's bedroom next to the kitchen sipping good whiskey and swapping stories for hours.

The other thing I remember most about Giffy was his fabulous cooking - particularly the broiled South African lobster fest he cooked up one big weekend. In my memory, it's still the best lobster I ever tasted.

Again, thanes for the newsletter. I enjoyed reading it. Best wished for success in college and in your career.

Tom Smith '56

Oh Deer, Another "Giffy" Story

(from the December 1992 Omegaphone) 
By C.J. "Joe" Newman '39

Dear Theta Chi of Penn State,

Your stories of Giffy were great and humorous. I thought I would add one that sticks in my memory ...

Some years before I went to Penn State my father and I were members of a hunting camp near McAlevys Fort, probably 20-25 miles from State College. I had hunted deer there for a few years and really enjoyed it.

During my senior year - 1939 - I had not gone hunting and the camp was vacant after December 12. Two of my great Theta Chi friends wanted to go to our camp and hunt deer. Malcolm McKay was one, and for certain reasons I will not name the other. We got our guns and licenses and went to the camp. I tried to educate the two brothers on deer hunting and we found a good place where I could drive and they could watch. About 1 p.m., I saw a deer go toward the watchers - and soon heard a shot. I found a dead deer, the watchers ... and a big problem. It was an illegal doe. The unnamed Theta Chi brother had been the shooter. I gutted the deer and we carried it to the roadside about a mile away. We marked the spot carefully, got in the car and returned to the house. I got in touch
with Giffy in the kitchen and told him of the disaster. After some discussion, Giffy said we should all meet at 10 pm and go and rescue the deer. We met, found the deer and brought it back to the house. From then on it was all Giffy: He skinned the great animal (about 155 pounds) and served venison for what seemed to be a month . No other brother ever found out what we were eating, nor did they ever suspect that the food was anything but super. Later on, Giffy told me many times of how much money we had saved Theta Chi.

I hope you don't find this story too boring, and I want to assure you all that no probation occurred. Maybe Bob Eberly will remember how good the food was in December of 1939.

To read more letters like this, check out the Omegaphone Archive