Hamlin Hall friendship endures 40 years and 3 generations

Hamlin Hall friendship endures 40 years and 3 generations

Jaws with their children, Jaws G2, in South Haven, Michigan, 2014.

The bond began at a second-floor meeting in 1975 at Hamlin Hall. About 18 men came together to meet their resident assistant (RA), senior Jeff Bailey, SBA ’76. Bailey encouraged the freshmen to form an intramural football team, one of many sports they played.

“They all seemed to bond quickly and I’m not sure why,” said Bailey, now a senior director of benefits at Target Corp. in Minnesota.

The esprit de corps that began in Hamlin continues to flourish 40 years later through a private Facebook group page and twice-a-year reunions, demonstrating that Oakland University has cultivated great minds and created deep friendships over the years.

Like most good friendships, theirs involves a fish story.

The 18 men needed a uniform for their intramural team. After the Hamlin Hall meeting, Jim
Slaga, SECS ’79
, and a few others headed to an off-campus store to find matching shirts.

The only ones available in that quantity were orange T-shirts displaying the great white shark and its sharp teeth from the original movie “Jaws”.

“Orange became our color and people around campus knew us by the name Jaws,” Slaga said. The group continues to go by Jaws to this day.

Slaga’s wife, Sue (Sienkiewicz) Slaga, SEHS ’79, ordered new Jaws shirts in 2014 for a summer reunion in South Haven, Michigan, working with Oakland University to use the name. She purchased 50 shirts to supply about 16 original Jaws members, including Resident Assistant Bailey, their spouses, children — dubbed Jaws G2, for second generation — and grandchildren, Jaws G3.

What started with a group of 18 freshmen has grown into an extended family with more than 50 members spanning three generations.  

“Our Jaws group has become more like family than friends,” said Sue, who began dating Jim at Oakland. “We’re there for each other for all the milestones like weddings, births and funerals.”

Three other Jaws members married OU alumni. The men, with help from their wives, keep the group going, Sue said.

After their freshman year, the men all wanted to remain together, so they applied to be an engineering special interest group, even though not everyone was studying that profession. The group moved to the fifth floor of Van Wagoner Hall, where they lived as a unit for the next several years.

The South Haven annual summer reunion started at the home of Barry Skuza, SHS ’78, while they were still students.

“My mom would cook for us. Everyone would pitch a tent and camp out or sleep on our floor,” said Skuza, Jim Slaga’s roommate for two years. “Sometimes we’d play sports or we’d go to the beach.”

Skuza bought his parents’ home in 1986, and the tradition continues — as does the traditional Christmas gathering hosted by Ralph Reznick, SECS ’79 in Diamondale, Michigan, near Lansing.

“The bond we have is like a fraternity without a fraternity,” said Reznick, whose computer screensaver is a photo of Jaws’ freshman days. “The initial bonding was because we were coming of age at the same time. It was our first time on our own, so we learned together and because of our common values, the friendship took.”

Men’s willingness to continue the friendship over the years is well-known in evolutionary psychology, noted Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Ph.D., OU associate professor and interpersonal relationship expert.

“It is believed that during the course of human evolution, men were more likely to stay with their natal groups as they got older,” Dr. Zeigler-Hill said. “This may have allowed men the opportunity to form stronger coalitional ties with others which may have allowed the formation of larger groups that required less interpersonal maintenance.”

Although Reznick uses his degree every day as an environmental engineer for the State of Michigan, he said he believes his OU experience gave him something even more valuable.

“OU helped create a tight-knit extended family who we know we can count on when we get in trouble, whether it’s a house project or a serious illness. We help each other because we are family.”

And that’s no fish — er, shark — story.