Lost Brothers project photo

If you lose touch with your college fraternity brothers after graduation, do you: a) do nothing; b) try to reconnect with them via social media or a phone call after life slows down, or c) surprise them by showing up at their house unannounced 35 years later?

If “c” sounds like the craziest choice, well, we’d like to introduce you to three late ’80s Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers from Ohio Northern University.

By all accounts, Dan Meek, BSME ’88, Brian Newberg, BA ’89, and Brian Keckler, BSEE ’89, are decent individuals and reputable professionals—a venture capitalist, an attorney, and a quality manager, respectively.

When the three get together? Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly), the ONU fraternity brothers transform into jokesters and co-conspirators, reminiscent of their college-aged selves.

During one such gathering of the minds, on a golf course during a global pandemic, the three concocted their most harebrained scheme to date: “The Lost Brothers Project.” 

Their plan? Play detective and track down the fraternity brothers they had not heard from for over three decades; pick a random weekend to show up at their home and “surprise” them; spend the night and reconnect.

Meek said: “Everybody we shared our idea with, I would say 98 percent of them, thought it was a really, really bad idea.”

The Plan Takes Shape

In the late 1980s, the SigEp house on the corner of Union St. and W. Lima Ave. in Ada, was a haven of laughs, hijinks, and friendship, if not necessarily the best place to study. 

“There were 33 guys living there and somebody was always goofing around,” said Meek. 

There was the time the brothers painted the fraternity seal on the ceiling, only to realize a few days later that they’d painted it backwards. Once during Greek Week, Newberg didn’t shower for days because he knew it was the only way he could beat Keckler in a wrestling match. And sure enough, Keckler forfeited because Newberg smelled too bad. 

They called each other nicknames—Newberg became “Nubie,” Keckler became “BA,” Doug Zimmerman, BSCE ’89, became “Z.” Meek managed to remain “Dan” for reasons not known.

With the exception of Dan, “I don’t think I called anybody by their real name,” reflected Newberg.

Black and white photo of several people

After college, the brothers showed up for each other’s weddings—serving as groomsmen in many cases—but then life got busy. Careers and growing families made it increasingly challenging for the 33 brothers to stay in touch.

Meek, Newberg, and Keckler remained involved in each other’s lives, although they didn’t get together as often as they would have liked. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic rocked everyone’s world. 

Working from home and social distancing made the three SigEp brothers crave a deeper connection with college friends. They initiated Zoom meetings every Friday just to chat. Sometimes they invited special guests and had mock agendas. It was sort of the “Kramer version of the Merv Griffin Show,” laughed Keckler. 

They joked about being a “board.” “Our motto was ‘this board works tirelessly,’” said Meek.

In their chats, they often wondered about the fraternity brothers they hadn’t heard from in decades. One day on the golf course, they decided they needed to track them down.

“We realized that we were not making a whole lot of new friends at our age, so we better start treating our old friends better,” explained Newberg.

Their “Lost Brothers” plan took shape rapidly, and they targeted their first unsuspecting brother: Dave Eby, BSME ’89.

In college, Eby had taught his SigEp brothers how to play lacrosse. They hadn’t seen him since his wedding day.

“Dave was a character you just couldn’t forget, and we knew we had to go see him,” said Meek.

Visit #1: Maryland Suburb

Strangely, Eby had no social media trail. The three brothers relied on real estate records to identify Eby’s potential location in Maryland.

One Thursday morning in August, 2021, the three piled into Newberg’s Jeep Wrangler for the trip from Ohio to the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Earlier that morning, Keckler had undergone a root canal. Bouncing around for hours in the backseat of a Wranger after a major dental procedure is not for the faint-hearted, he advised. 

The entire 9-hour journey, the three speculated about what could possibly go wrong.

As a lawyer, Newberg came up with the most imaginative worst-case scenarios. 

“His brain was working a mile a minute,” laughed Meek. 

At several points, the three argued about scrapping the idea altogether and heading back home. 

But the next morning, at 7:30 a.m., they found themselves bravely knocking on the front door of a Maryland suburban home that they hoped housed Dave Eby.

They braced themselves for a guy who looked more aged than the Eby they remembered from college—“old Dave, not young Dave,” advised Newberg.

So, they were quite taken aback when Eby’s wife answered the door and a “young Dave” appeared behind her. It turned out to be Dave’s teenage son who bore a remarkable resemblance to the Dave the three remembered from college.

Eby’s wife, Sherin, told Dave that she thought three of his fraternity brothers from Ohio were at the door. “To say I was shocked was an understatement,” said Eby. “When I went down to see them, I recognized them immediately.”

The father of four boys, Eby is an aerospace engineer and the technical warrant officer for all U.S. Navy and Marine aircraft designs and repairs. He’s coached soccer for 21 years and is a deacon in his local Presbyterian church.

After the initial shock of seeing his fraternity brothers subsided, Eby spent the day and evening catching up with his three visitors. He called off work, but gave his brothers a tour of the naval base where he worked. The four went golfing and ate Maryland crabcakes. They played Euchre and told stories into the wee hours of the morning.

Per their plan, Meek, Newberg, and Keckler headed out early the next morning, determined not to overstay their welcome. On the way back to Ohio, they realized—much to their delight and the amazement of their naysayers—that it was a successful mission. 

Eby said the visit was something he would remember for the rest of his life. “It’s an amazing day when you realize you now have 10-15 brothers back in your life,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful ride getting reacquainted with everyone and seeing who they’ve become.”

Surprising Dave Eby, BSME ’89, at his home in Maryland! From left to right, Brian Newberg, BA ’89, Brian Keckler, BSEE ’89, (in
Surprising Dave Eby, BSME ’89, at his home in Maryland! From left to right, Brian Newberg, BA ’89, Brian Keckler, BSEE ’89, (in back), Dave Eby, and Dan Meek, BSME ’88.

The Maryland visit included an impromptu round of golf.
The Maryland visit included an impromptu round of golf.

Enjoying the Chesapeake Bay with “lost brother” #1.
Enjoying the Chesapeake Bay with “lost brother” #1.


Visit #2: Farm in Ohio

With Eby back in the friendship fold, Meek, Newberg, and Keckler set their sights on a second lost brother: Ray Heaston, BSBA ’90.

Heaston was living on a small beef cattle and horses farm in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Married with three children, he worked as a business manager for the Carroll County Board of Developmental Disabilities/Carroll Hill Schools. He was actively involved with Alpine Bible Church in Sugarcreek.

College was a stressful time for Heaston back in the ‘80s, and his mom died during his senior year. 

“Joining the SigEp fraternity provided a network of friends and a sense of belonging that I needed at that time,” he said. “But once I got that diploma, I was pretty much ‘outta-there,’” he recalled. 

Thus, he lost touch with his fraternity brothers. “I think life just became full with moving closer to home, my family, and my church family,” he said.

In June 2023, nearly two years after their first surprise visit, Meek, Newberg, and Keckler headed to New Philadelphia to surprise Heaston. Only this time, they brought along company. Eby came from Maryland to participate, along with four other SigEp brothers.

The eight brothers arrived at Heaston’s farm in the late afternoon and Heaston’s wife greeted them with disbelief, but also delight. Heaston was still at work. They told her their plan to surprise him and camp overnight and she agreed.

Heaston recalled: “I came home on a Friday to find a canopy set up in the driveway by our barn, a fire ring, cooler, and several guys sitting in lawn chairs watching me as I parked my car. I went inside and asked my wife ‘who are these people’ and she just smiled and said ‘let’s go find out.’”

As he approached his SigEp brothers, Heaston still didn’t recognize anyone. “All I could think is that it’s probably some of my crazy cousins from the big city,” he said.

He got the crazy part right. Finally, one of the crew went up to him and introduced himself, and the lightbulb went off in Heaston’s head.

“It was an instant explosion of shock and disbelief,” he recalled. “Unbelievable, I mean really … UNBELIEVABLE!!!”

Newberg was visibly relieved that all turned out well, because just before they pulled into Heaston’s driveway, it had occurred to him that country folks had guns.

The brothers camped out on the farm, grilled burgers and hot dogs, and spent the evening around the fire eating dinner, talking, and catching up. They even sang the Sigma Phi Epsilon Sweetheart song to Heaston’s wife, Sarah.

In the morning, Sarah made the gang a big breakfast and they headed out, another successful reconnection completed.

“For the next two weeks, I would randomly shake my head in disbelief over the whole thing,” said Heaston. “It couldn’t have turned out better. What a unique lifetime memory!”

Surprising SigEp brother Ray Heaston, BSBA’ 90, at his home in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
Surprising SigEp brother Ray Heaston, BSBA’ 90, at his home in New Philadelphia, Ohio. From left to right, Mark Goodwin, x86, Dan Meek, BSME ’88, Dave Eby, BSME ’89, Ray Heaston, Brian Keckler, BSEE ’89, Chad Hoffman, BSBA ’92, Michael Roediger, BA ’90, Tim Snapp, BSBA ’90, Brian Newberg, BA ’89.

Camping on Heaston’s farm.
Camping on Heaston’s farm.

Visit #3: Downtown Chicago High Rise

Just two months later, August 2023, the SigEp brothers were on the road again, this time headed to Chicago to surprise brother #3: John Hodge, BA ’88.

A total of five brothers participated in this surprise visit. Because Hodge lived in an iconic downtown Chicago high rise, they enlisted an “insider,” Amy Corle, BFA ’88, John’s friend, who was prepared to secretly “buzz” them into the building. 

Hodge had recently retired from a career as a school administrator. The weekend of August 19-20, he was hosting a party for Chicago’s Air and Water Show. One by one, his five ONU brothers filed through his door for his party—uninvited— wearing matching t-shirts in honor of the Thunderbirds performing in the show. He shook all their hands and greeted them.

“I didn’t recognize them until they started telling me their names and then it all came together,” said Hodge. “Before we got too far along, they asked me if there was a particular reason why we hadn’t been in touch for the past 30-plus years. When I said ‘no,’ their response was ‘great, in that case we brought beer.’’

Hodge explained that the crew immediately picked up right where they’d left off at the SigEp house in the ‘80s, sharing stories and laughs. 

“We had such a great time, we missed the air show entirely,” he said. “I am still telling the story of five guys who planned every detail and did what it takes to surprise a friend. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Road trip to Chicago to surprise lost SigEp brother #3.
Road trip to Chicago to surprise lost SigEp brother #3. From left to right, Brian Newberg, BA ’89, Dan Meek, BSME ’88, (back seat), Eric Kern, BA ’90, and Doug Zimmerman, BSCE ’89.

The Chicago high rise where John Hodge, BA ’88, lives.
The Chicago high rise where John Hodge, BA ’88, lives.

Enjoying the air show on the roof of John Hodge’s building.
Enjoying the air show on the roof of John Hodge’s building. From left to right, Doug Zimmerman, BSEC ’89, Eric Kern, BA ’90, Dan Meek, BSME ’88, John Hodge, BA’ 88, Brian Newberg, BA ’89, (behind John), Amy Corle, BFA ’88, and James Leagre, BA ’86.


A Successful Friendship Journey

As the “Lost Brothers Project” gained traction over the past two years, Meek, Newberg, and Keckler had an epiphany: “We realized that it was the journey that mattered,” explained Keckler.

Indeed, through all the scheming, road trips, and surprise visits, the three’s bond of friendship grew stronger. They experienced more laughs and special moments than they could have ever imagined.

The “Lost Brothers Project” was an unpredictable, adrenaline-rushing ride, said Meek, “and normal life now seems boring in comparison.” It was also, he added, “one of the most interesting and important things I’ve done in my life.”

Newberg added that the friendships you make in college are one-of-a-kind.

“There’s a time in your life when you make special friendships,” he said, “and these are the friendships that, even if you’ve lost touch for decades, you can pick it back up again like no time has passed at all.”