Lou Diaz ’59 describes himself as a lucky man. He says luck is the only explanation for the expanse of good fortune in life he’s received. Those around him differ. Rather, they say Lou’s dedication to and passion for social responsibility have shaped his success.
Lou credits his experience as a student at The University of Olivet in helping him develop a life based on social responsibility. He originally came to the small college – a drastic change from his high school graduating class numbering in the 600s – to pursue the opportunity to play football. A successful career as a college athlete did indeed follow, Lou is a member of the OC Athletic Hall of Fame, but he took away much more than a record of impressive stats.
Most importantly, Lou built lifelong relationships with professors, staff members, fellow students and his fraternity brothers.
“When I got to The University of Olivet, I had the good fortune to play football right away. I was on the starting lineup in every single game from my freshman year to my senior year. It was an incredible experience that I never expected to have, but what I really realized was that it was the small school atmosphere that was really great for me,” Lou said. “It was pretty shocking coming to live in a small community after growing up near Detroit, but it was a lot of fun. It was a great opportunity for me to function in a college atmosphere that I wouldn’t have gotten somewhere else. That’s been a very helpful experience in my life.”
Lou played a variety of positions on the football team but his primary role was linebacker. He was elected to the All-MIAA second team in 1957 and 1958. In addition, Lou received honorable mention for the Little All-American, was named to the Associated Press Michigan College Team, and was voted Most Valuable Player and captain in 1957 and 1958 by his teammates. He also utilized his athletic talents on the baseball team and was formally inducted into The University of Olivet’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977.
In the classroom, Lou spent his time as a student preparing to be at the front of the room, with a career goal to become a teacher. He majored in biology and became especially close with Dr. Edward Speare. To Lou, Dr. Speare was more than just a teacher, he was a role model for passion and commitment. One of Lou’s fondest memories from his time as a student is assisting Dr. Speare in research for his Ph.D., and his biggest takeaway into his own career as a teacher was the importance of a relationship-based education.
On The Crest – A Brotherhood for Life
While Lou found his niche in athletics and the biology program, he also discovered a love of Greek life that has not faded over the decades since his graduation. “Two of my former high school classmates had come to Olivet and become Phi Alphas, so I naturally migrated there,” Lou explained. “The brothers were welcoming and wanted me to be there, which was very encouraging. Until I joined the society, I had bounced around and lived in a house downtown, the dorms and even a room near the gym. When I moved to Phi Alpha, it was my first true home at The University of Olivet.”
Lou continued to get involved with the fraternity, and even served as president of the organization. It was during his experience living in the house that he says he honed the skills of leadership, friendship and honesty. Still today, Lou hosts a gathering of his brothers once a year, continuing the society’s mission of “Progress, Truth and Friendship.”
It was at one of Lou’s gatherings a few years ago that a group of Phi Alpha brothers reviewed pictures of the society’s house and determined it needed a remodel. “We just had to do something when we saw the shape of the house,” Lou stressed. “Everyone kind of turned and looked at me and said, ‘It’s up to you, Lou.’ I started paying attention to the needs of the house and organized the Phi Alpha House Restoration Campaign, ‘On the Crest.’ The campaign has raised almost $1,000,000 to restore the chapter home and big improvements have already been made, but we’re not done yet. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s also been an honor to prepare the home to serve men now and into the future.”
The Phi Alpha Pi house will be open for self-guided tours during Homecoming, Saturday, Sept. 29 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. The home has already received a complete rebuild of its kitchen, refinished wood paneling, trim and banisters, additional closet space, new carpeting and paint, renovations to the bathrooms, a face lift to the porch and more.
For Lou, the time and energy he has spent to raise the funds to renovate the Phi Alpha house is only a small return to the college that he says changed his life. Rather than needing to find a reason why he should give back to the college and society, Lou says he can’t find a single reason why not. His own experience as a student is the driving force that motivates him to preserve the college in such ways that more students will be able to have life changing experiences.
“I never thought that my actions would lead me to be honored as a distinguished alumnus,” Lou said. “I greatly appreciate the recognition, but what I really am proud of is that others have appreciated the work I did to restore the Phi Alpha house and in other ways for my community. I hope I can share the simple idea that this old graduate is here to show his love for this school.”
More About Lou
After graduating from The University of Olivet, Lou launched his professional career in 1959 as a teacher and coach in Southgate, Michigan. He is very proud of his roles as assistant varsity football coach for the undefeated football team of 1967 and head track coach. After more than 15 years, Lou’s interests turned to teacher rights and benefits. He became the local union president in Southgate before joining the Michigan Education Association in 1974. Lou was a UniServ Director in the Cadillac office, responsible for bargaining 17 contracts, and later was appointed as zone director for a quarter of the state with 60 professionals working under his leadership.
Retiring in 2000, Lou still holds a number of positions within his community. He currently serves on the board of directors for Voices Without Borders, an organization that supports and promotes musical opportunities for young people in northern Michigan. The choir travels abroad and hosts foreign choirs as they develop friendship and understanding through music. Lou also serves as treasurer of his homeowners’ association and a volunteer mediator for Northern Community Mediation. In 2016, he was even honored with the Volunteer Mediator of the Year Award.
“Olivet gave me a chance to change my life,” Lou said. “It gave me an education, taught me social responsibility, helped me develop lifelong friends, and set me on the path to life-changing experiences.”
Learn more about 2018 Homecoming and OC’s 175th anniversary celebration, and register for events now, including the Alumni Awards Celebration Friday, Sept. 28. In addition, Mike Fales ’75 and Breanna (Bath) O’Keefe ’08 will be honored for their commitment to The University of Olivet, and Laura Fiorino ’02, Chris Gumper ’96, Vern Hazard ’83, David Millward ’97 and Kathy (Hughes) Roche-Wallace ’00 will be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame.