By Fred Alvarez
Stakes are high at annual poker party
It’s supposed to be a friendly poker game. After all, the players – mostly Cal Lutheran alumni – know they won’t head home with a bundle of cash at the end of the night.
For the past 25 years, every nickel, dime and quarter wagered in their annual poker tourney has gone to a Cal Lutheran scholarship fund established in honor of their buddy Sven Slattum, who was killed a year after graduating from CLU.
Still, when the guys get together for their poker showdown, a year’s worth of bragging rights are at stake. There also is the possibility of taking home a perpetual trophy created as a tribute to their poker pal – a fun-loving geology student remembered for his good humor, zany betting habits and reluctance to let a good poker game come to an end.
“His spirit is definitely alive in the game,” said Redding resident Dean Clark, a former CLU student who for the past year held the trophy awarded to the winner of the Sven Slattum Annual Poker Tournament.
“Sven would just bet like crazy; he didn’t care if he had money or not,” Clark added. “When Sven played, almost everybody walked out of there with IOUs, and we all knew we weren’t going to get our money back. All he cared about was keeping the game going.”
Keeping the game going is what some of Slattum’s closest friends have been doing for a quarter century. Once a year, they come together from all over the country to take part in the poker party, which rotates to the home of a different player each year.
The 25th anniversary of the game was held in September at the Moorpark home of Guy Corrigan, a friend who used to play poker with Slattum and friends in Pederson Hall.
Clark drove down from Redding, former CLU classmate Dan Naef arrived from Nevada, Earl Slee traveled from Laguna Niguel and longtime friend Bob Voelker came in from Arizona. Slattum’s former roommate Mike Bloomgren ’82 came the furthest, flying in from Michigan.
The games range from five-card draw and seven-card stud to unconventional hands that come with a dizzying amount of direction and require a degree in high math to fully comprehend.
But whatever the game, whatever the winnings and losses at the end of the night, all of the proceeds are collected and delivered to Cal Lutheran.
Since the poker tournament began, Slattum’s buddies have contributed about $6,000 in poker proceeds toward the scholarship that is awarded annually to a geology student in need of financial assistance.
Just as important, the annual gathering has served the larger purpose of keeping Slattum’s memory alive, as his friends gather to share stories of the laid-back guy who was always the life of the party.
“We are all good friends who saw this not only as a way to remember Sven, who certainly is worth remembering, but also as a way of preserving our unique relationship with each other,” said Naef, who lives in Henderson, Nev. “Without this, we all probably would have stayed friends, but we certainly would not have stayed in touch to this degree.”
The accident that killed Slattum in 1984 rocked the Cal Lutheran campus. He was riding in a car with fellow CLU alum Brian Solem and CLU senior Sally Jo Mullins when their vehicle went off the road and crashed. Solem and Mullins died that day; Slattum succumbed to his injuries a week later.
The accident was made all the more heartbreaking because Slattum and Solem were the sons of beloved CLU art professors Jerry Slattum and John Solem, both of whom have since retired.
The CLU community responded with open hearts. Family, faculty and fellow students pulled together to set up memorial scholarships in the names of all three students. The University established a meditative memorial site with a large white rock at its core next to the creek that runs through Kingsmen Park.
“The whole thing just hit the campus like a thunderbolt,” said Della Greenlee, CLU’s Director of Foundation Relations and Scholarship Development. She worked closely with the families to establish the memorial scholarships, and has developed a special connection with Slattum’s poker playing buddies.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing that these guys would think it so important to honor Sven every year,” Greenlee said. “It has meant so much, not only to us to receive and award this scholarship, but to the family to know their son is remembered.”
His friendship was unquestioned, his legacy indelible. Through births and deaths, marriages and divorces, graduations and job changes, he has kept this group together. And through the group, he has made it easier for some cash-strapped geology students to continue their studies.
“It’s nice to realize that potentially you can touch someone’s life,” said Corrigan, “that you can leave a lasting memory.”
Fred Alvarez is a high school history and journalism teacher who lives in Ojai. For more than two decades, he was a staff writer for several daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Endowed scholarships have been established at CLU in memory of two alumni and a student who died as a result of a car accident in July 1984.
Sally Jo Mullins Memorial Scholarship is awarded to an upper-division student who is actively involved on The Echo staff and shows editorial leadership.
Brian Solem ’83 Memorial Scholarship is granted to an undergraduate or fifth-year geology major. Individual merit is given special consideration.
Sven Slattum ’82 Memorial Scholarship is given to an undergraduate geology major. Individual merit is given special consideration. Any year that there is no qualified geology major, the scholarship can be awarded to an art student.
Information about contributing to these and other CLU scholarships may be obtained by calling Foundation Relations and Scholarship Development at (805) 493-3160 or by contacting department director Della Greenlee at firstname.lastname@example.org.