The Blue House Legacy
When ten men moved into a house on the edge of campus in the late 1990s, little did they know the brotherhood that resulted would inspire a tradition that influences student life to this day.
For decades, visitors driving onto campus from Main Street were greeted by a quaint, two-story Victorian home with blue siding. Originally owned by MHB business manager and education professor Dr. Tom Dannelley and his wife, Ruth ’40, the property was purchased by the university in 1998.
In the late 1990s, the student population was growing so quickly that there was not enough room in the dorms to accommodate the demand for on-campus housing. The decision was made to allow students to live in a number of university-owned houses near campus, including the Blue House. Born out of that decision was a group of young men who forged a bond closer than brothers and left a legacy that continues to influence student life at UMHB today.
This is the story of the Blue House and the men who lived there.
IF WALLS COULD TALK
It was the spring of 1999, and Chad Widmer ’01 was a sophomore ministry major living on campus in the Tryon Apartments. He was approached by Dean of Students Ray Martin, who asked him if he would select nine upstanding, Christian men in good academic standing to move with him into the Blue House. Widmer and his brother, Kevin, who was a freshman living in McLane Hall, immediately began asking mutual friends. The following fall, the first ten men moved into the Blue House.
“We were a mixed and varied group, with some preferring music and a keyboard and others Playstations and Golden Eye, yet the brotherhood only grew in depth and love,” one of the original housemates, Brian Rayburn ’02, said.
Soon the group of men had formed a unique identity, known throughout campus as the Blue House Posse. As members graduated or moved out, the roommates decided amongst themselves who they would ask to move in, based on a self-created set of guidelines.
“In the summer of 2000, Brian approached me and asked if I would be interested in living in the Blue House,” Jeremy Hill ’03 remembers. “I accepted and my life changed forever. Little did I know that I had just been ‘inducted’ into an unofficial fraternity—a brotherhood that would be like none other. The guys that would live in the house were only a small part of the larger Blue House Posse that would impact my worldview and create a bond that would be as strong as blood. I became as close to those roommates as brothers and still call them as such today.”
The Blue House Posse evolved to include more than just the handful of young men who lived in the house.
“Other students were welcome to join us in all that we were involved in. I can’t remember ever turning anyone away for any reason; we were pretty welcoming. The more the merrier,” Hill said.
The BHP was involved in all aspects of campus life, including Student Government Association, Welcome Week, Easter Pageant, and playing intramural sports. When they weren’t participating in university-sponsored events, they were making their own fun—camping in the quad, taking the furniture out of the house to throw impromptu dance parties, even toilet papering the president’s house. The group’s mischief was always executed with such a good-natured spirit that Hill remembers first lady Vicky Bawcom offering the group cookies to snack on as they cleaned up the mess in the president’s front yard the next morning.
But what the group most cherishes were the times spent together in the Blue House—starting each semester with a time of prayer and praise in the living room; family-style ‘Thanksgiving’ meals together every fall; and, of course, the mess that accumulated from a dozen college guys living together in close proximity.
“I would tell the guys I would cook for them if they would clean up the kitchen enough for me to be able to get to the sink and stove,” Chad Widmer laughs.
BARREL RUNS, SMELLY COUCHES, AND GOOD TIMES
The spring before the group moved into the Blue House, Kevin Widmer ’02 and another future BHP member Robert Forrest ’02 decided on a whim to carry Kevin’s green plaid loveseat from his McLane dorm room out to the softball field. They sat the couch right behind home plate and cheered on the softball team (specifically Michele Thomas ’02, who later married Robert).
The tradition continued after the guys moved into the Blue House.
“One of our original house members, Jonathan Wright, was on the Cru soccer team,” Rayburn said. “He often remarked about how few fans came out to their games. So the house responded! That next week we took two beat-up couches from our living room, a small black grill, and handmade signs and headed out to the soccer game. We did not know it at the time, but that watershed moment of yelling from couches would become a movement that became the Couch Cru.”
When the group realized how much their display of support meant to the soccer team, they knew it could mean even more for the university’s burgeoning football program.
“A couple of us made an appointment with the athletic director and told him our idea,” Rayburn said. “He gave us a few vague parameters and told us to meet him at the football game early the next week with our couches. The entire house set out to recruit all the friends we could to join us.”
The idea was an instant hit with the student body. The group began developing cheers and game-day rituals, including doing one push-up for each point the team scored. During the week, they would dumpster dive to acquire barrels, pots, and pans that they spray painted purple and gold and brought to the games as noisemakers. Each gameday, the group—dressed in school colors, overalls, cowboy hats, and painted faces—would load into the back of their trucks with their couches and supplies. On their way to the stadium, they would detour around campus, honking their horns and cheering, a precursor to the Campus Run tradition that continues to this day.
Soon, the Blue House Posse name became synonymous with their elaborate displays of school spirit at sporting events—and for the couches they toted with them to each game.
“I remember coming home from church one Sunday in the fall,” BHP member Jonathan Leftwich ’02 said. “Joining a few of my Blue House brothers, I plopped down on a couch in the living room—it felt like I went all the way to the floor! Then I remember the smell of dirty feet hitting me. It was a reminder of the game the day before. These couches had been used in the rain, trampled on by countless people, then returned to our living room. We all laughed about the condition of our couches, and we always found room for one more couch in the living room!”
Hill said he believes the BHP’s success at getting the student body involved was directly related to the charisma and leadership that was embodied in each of the guys who lived in the house.
“As others joined us, they brought their friends and invited others as well,” Hill said. “As our group changed, new ideas and cheers were brought to the table. Upperclassmen made an effort to let go and allow the younger classes to take over the responsibilities of organizing, cheering, supplies, and recruiting. That translated to a sense of ownership and made for a seamless transition.”
And with each passing year, the torch was passed on to the next generation of Crusader sports fans.
“All those years ago, I never would have thought that Kevin’s harebrained idea to take a couch to a softball game and my eagerness to join him to cheer on my future bride would turn into a great UMHB tradition,” Forrest said. “Kevin and I are not trying to take credit for starting the Couch Cru. We were just two fat guys sitting on a couch at softball games. And we were never actually members of the Couch Cru because we were part of the football team. I like to remember it like this: my sophomore year, my roommates were so supportive that they started something that began a movement and initiated a college tradition that still exists today, more than ten years since my last game as a Crusader.”
Hill said that it is exciting to return to Cru football games each year and see first-hand how the Couch Cru has evolved and adapted.
“The Couch Cru has changed from what we began, but when I look at them, it still takes me back to a place where I can see myself shoulder-to-shoulder with my friends, enjoying life. It reminds me of the love for those brothers that will last years beyond UMHB. Today’s students don’t know it yet, but that’s what they are creating—relationships that they will treasure for the rest of their lives.”
A BAND OF BROTHERS
BHP members agree the group’s real legacy is the impression they left on one another during the years they experienced together in the Blue House.
“Whenever I describe it to others along the way, I get the response, ‘So, was it a fraternity? What was the difference?’,” BHP member Jimmy Wright ’03 said. “The difference is that not only did everyone love the Lord, but we tried to exemplify what brotherhood truly was meant to be. The bond that we had in common was that we were there together, no matter who it was, cheering on each other in everything we did.”
“What made the Blue House and the Couch Cru so special to me was our bond in the Lord,” he said. “We could scream our lungs out at a football game, then pray for each other that evening. We could argue a referee call at noon, and then argue about predestination at night. We would put as much energy into worshiping the Lord on Sunday as we would screaming at the game on Saturday. We could be really mad at each other over a girl, over drinking someone else’s milk, or over not taking out the trash, but there was always forgiveness and brotherly love in Christ.”
A decade later, members of the Blue House Posse are spread out all over the world. Some are teachers. Some are coaches. Many are pastors. One worked with the U.S. Congress and one is a Wycliff missionary in the Far East.
“I wonder how many lives have been changed for Christ because of the men of the Blue House?,” Leftwich asked. “Ten years later, we have been all over the world, in all different walks of life, living out a life for Christ which was shaped and formed in so many different ways by our time together in the Blue House.”
-Jennifer Meers Jones ’08
THEN AND NOW. Left: The Blue House Posse during their college days. (Top row, from left) Charlie Turner, Ricky White, Jess Barber, Chad Toppass, (seated on couch) Matthew Culli, Brady Johnston, Robert Forrest, Chad Peterson, Kevin Widmer, Chauncey Gearhart, (on floor) Chad Widmer, Jimmy Wright, Jeremy Hill, Jonathan Wright, and Blake Gearhart.
Right: The BHP reunites at Homecoming in October. (From Left) Katy McNab Peterson, Emma Peterson, Chad Peterson, Clark Peterson, Georgia Peterson, Chauncey Gearhart, Nathan Allen, Amanda Day Hill, Jeremy Hill, Megan Leftwich, Elisabeth Bennett Leftwich, Jonathan Leftwich, Ellie Leftwich, Kara Leftwich, Ethan Leftwich, Matthew Culli, Brady Johnston, Annie Johnston, (kneeling in front) Jenny Lindquist Worsham, Noah Worsham, and Trent Worsham.
Do you have a story of an enduring UMHB friendship? We’d love to hear it!