Roughing it at WPI
By Courtney Towson
SPECIAL TO THE TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
WORCESTER- It’s been a couple of cold nights in the city. The snow, sleet and rain have fallen and the winds have howled. And no one knows that better than the fraternity brothers of Alpha Chi Rho who spent the last two nights camped out on the quad of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute campus.
Their campout was not part of the usual frat high jinks that take place on college campuses nationwide; instead, the fraternity was showing support and raising money for a member who was kidnapped in Iraq almost two years ago. As other students rushed to class, they set up camp with tents, a fire pit and an igloo designed by one of the members.
The igloo took hours to build and isn’t quite ready for habitation yet, but it has been the impetus for much of the attention the fraternity’s cause has been receiving over the past two days.
Jeffrey J. Ake, an alumnus of the Purdue chapter of Alpha Chi Rho, was in Iraq as a military contractor. He was president and CEO of Equipment Express, a company that was working to improve the water infrastructure in Iraq.
On April 11, 2005, unknown assailants kidnapped Mr. Ake. Two days later, a video of him clutching his passport while three men pointed rifles at his head appeared on Al-Jazeera television. No group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and Al-Jazeera would not say where it obtained the video.
Mr. Ake, who would now be 48, has not been seen nor heard from since that day. Once the government-funded search concluded, Equipment Express picked up the expenses, said Adam Tracy, president of the WPI chapter of Alpha Chi Rho.
But when Equipment Express, which now has no comment on the situation, was sold, the funding was cut off, said Mr. Tracy.
“The money for the search has to come from the family, but they have no steady income.” After learning about the situation at the national Alpha Chi Rho conclave, the local chapter decided it should help.
The members brainstormed for fundraiser ideas. “Anyone can sit at a table and ask for money,” said Mr. Tracy. “We wanted to do something that would catch the eye of public, and get the issue on their minds.” A campout in the quad, dubbed “Maximum Exposure,” was the result of that brainstorm.
On Wednesday afternoon, the brothers pitched a tent and began their planned 45-hour mission to raise money to aid in the search for Mr. Ake.
It took weeks to plan the campout and gain approval from the college administration, because of safety concerns. Not once did the frat members think the biggest snowstorm and some of the coldest temperatures and fastest winds of the season would hit the area on their first night out.
Each of the 42 members of Alpha Chi Rho signed up for three-hour shifts in groups of 10. Last night, during one of Mr. Tracy’s shifts, a tent pole broke in the high winds, but the brothers stayed out there and continued with their mission. “He’s been held hostage for over a year,” said Mr. Tracy. “There is no reason we can’t camp out for two nights. We just feel better going out there instead of sitting inside at a table asking for money.”
So far the fraternity has raised more than $200, which will go directly to the family of Mr. Ake. “That’s pretty good for a bunch of poor college students.”