Jeff Kaufman’s Reunions Went Viral, and Now They’re a Beta Pi Staple

Jeff Kaufman ‘80 knew that PiKA was the right spot for him from the very beginning, but he probably couldn’t have guessed that the brothers he met in the row house squeezed “between Pi Lambda Phi and a bookstore” would be such an integral part of his life forty years later. Or that they’d be telling the same half-true (not sure which half) stories at the annual reunions that he says now become an event that everyone looks forward to. But that’s the beauty of being a Beta Pi. Here’s how Jeff tells it.

What made you decide to join PiKA?

JK:A group of us became friends while we were in a dorm together and we scouted out different fraternity houses together. It ended up being PiKA because everything about it clicked — we obviously liked the brothers, the house, the feeling of the place. I had also gone to a camp that was a feeder for Beta Pi — Rob Oringer was my initial Camp/Beta Pi contact. I’ve known Rob my whole life-our fathers were fraternity brothers at Penn (TEP) and lifelong friends.  Other notable Camp Echo Lake/ Beta Pis are Jerry HermanDave EdmanSandy HertzScott Rothbort, Sam Weinstein, Larry Wieseneck and Ira Bloom

Who were some of the freshmen you rushed and later joined with?

JK: I was in a dorm with Ross Weiner (freshman roommate), Tony Lundy  and Lawrence (don’t call me Larry) Orans  before we all came over to PiKA. We also met and became friendly with Fred Rubin, Jeff Abramowitz, Buddy Altus, Mike Halpern, John Joseph, John Feder, Bora Sila, Mark Anderson, Chawner Hurd, Stan (the Crusher) Jones, Sal (Shlomo) Astorita and Steve Washuta to name a few. We had a pledge class of about 24 and we became good friends during rush and pledging. 

Tell me about the PiKA house in the 80s.

JK: It didn’t look much different than it does now. It was not your prototypical fraternity house — it was a brick row house squeezed between Pi Lambda Phi and a bookstore. But it had that big front porch with a barbecue pit on it, and lots of parties and rush events. We had Julia Wellons in the kitchen as our chef and Teddy Plowdeno as the houseman It was very comfortable being there with the brothers. It was clear it was the right choice for us.

What kind of an impact did PiKA have on your life after graduation?

JK: I learned a lot about leadership, getting a lot of people with different agendas to go mostly in the same direction, how to manage a budget and run a business.Those lessons carried over to my working life after graduation. On the personal side, I’m still close with the friends I had back then. We get together fairly regularly — in fact we have an ‘80s dinner coming up at the end of September. We also are trying to get the December event back on the schedule, COVID-permitting.   

How did you get started organizing these reunions?

JK: It wasn’t hard to get people together. It started as a small group then the circle got bigger and bigger. Everybody wants to get together — people genuinely want to connect. Pretty soon, we’re back to the early ‘80s, telling the same stories that are still funny after 40 years, even if they’re not 100% accurate. Everybody enjoys it, getting together to rekindle those friendships. Although it’s great to see my classmates, one of the highlights for me is getting to see some of the brothers who graduated earlier and were part of Beta Pi history. Talking to Bruce Wolfson, who single-handedly turned the house from facing Delancey Street to Spruce, is always a highlight for me. Harvey Mackler, Paul Reszutek and Mitch Karig all made the last event. We also had a good showing from the Class of ‘77 — my big brother Tony AuteriRon PerilsteinRich BuchwaldSteve Winston and Lee Weiner all attended. Everything is like it was back in the early ‘80s … at least for a few hours.

Scheduling is tough, but we try to do it in early December before holiday events start. New York City is just a train ride away for most and something to look forward to. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your career and family after Penn?

Jeff Kaufman’s Reunions Went Viral, and Now They’re a Beta Pi Staple

JK: I started at Macy’s in 1983, went to Linens ‘N Things, and then became president and COO of Avanti Linens in 2003. My wife and I have three adult children who are all doing well out in the world. 

Why is staying connected with your PiKA brothers so important?

JK: Because it’s the people you want to hang out with. These are people you spent four great years with, and they’re your best friends. Why wouldn’t you want to spend time with them? My dad jokingly (sort of)  said that I majored in fraternity at Penn. It was a really important part of my college experience and a big part of my life since. It’s amazing to see all these people back together again — we’re not bankers and lawyers and doctors — we’re brothers, laughing at the same old jokes again and just enjoying being together. 

It’s so important to be involved with the chapter as a whole. We need the next group of brothers to get involved. We have a very dedicated alumni council that has carried the torch for a long time. We need the next generation to step up and help the house with various issues as they come up. It’s time to give back and keep the flame lit. 

Did you graduate in the early ‘70s through early ‘80s? Email Jeff at [email protected] to find out more about reunions happening this year.